Nipissing University’s School of Business Partners with Colleges to Deliver a Business Degree Option
Nipissing University in North Bay received its charter as an independent university in 1992. Its School of Business offers undergraduate degree programs with several specializations. As part of a relatively young university, Nipissing’s School of Business has been implementing a strategy to increase enrolment by virtue of their College Partnership Program.
In 2008, Nipissing University entered into discussions with Fanshawe College in London and Sheridan College in Oakville/Brampton to collaborate on providing options for graduates of their respective three-year Business Administration Diploma programs. Many graduates with these advanced diplomas were motivated to earn a business degree to enhance their standing with potential employers and to satisfy the designation requirements of professional bodies, such as the Certified General Accountants Association and Human Resources Professionals Association, which require a university degree. The larger local universities were often quite restrictive in terms of the transfer credits they were willing to grant to these college graduates which meant that for some students, they had to complete an additional 2½ years of courses to earn a degree. For other students, the long commute or large class sizes were also an issue. It was in this context that Nipissing established partnerships with Fanshawe and Sheridan to offer their graduates a Bachelor of Commerce program specifically designed for them.
As a first step, Nipissing’s School of Business faculty reviewed the course outlines from each college program to determine what the graduates had studied and the gaps between the Diploma and the Bachelor of Commerce degree that the university awards. An intensive 12-month program that complemented the college programs was then set up, requiring full-time students to take five courses for each of three consecutive semesters. All students must have the Business Administration Diploma with a 72% average.
The program was launched in 2009 at Fanshawe College and at two campuses of Sheridan College. It has grown steadily since that time, adding Algonquin College in Ottawa in 2010, St. Clair College in Windsor in 2011, Centennial College in Toronto in 2012, and with Lambton College in Sarnia starting in September 2013.
The majority of the courses are offered using a blended learning delivery format which combines online learning activities augmented by in-class tutorial sessions. Students are provided with readings, mini-quizzes, assignments, and a discussion board online, with the expectations that they prepare for the weekly face-to-face sessions by working through the online content. In addition to developing the course materials, the Online Instructor also provides the students with feedback, responds to questions, and evaluates assignments and exams. The final exams are written at the colleges.
The face-to-face portion of the course is held for two hours weekly at the campus of the college partner. The in-class Course Facilitators include highly-skilled professionals, for example, lawyers for the Commercial Law course and general managers for business strategy courses. The Facilitators bring in their real life experience, adding practical and contextual information, functioning as models of industry practitioners and bosses. They lead the discussions of case studies, assist with difficult concepts from the online material, and link the theory to the business world. Students are expected to actively participate in these weekly tutorials, for which they may receive a portion of the final mark.
Some of the more ‘quantitative’ courses, such as Accounting and Taxation, are taught entirely face-to-face in three-hour classes; the elective courses, which tend to have smaller enrolments, are taught completely online. It is estimated that students will spend five to seven hours a week per course. For this reason, it is recommended that they do not attempt to work full-time while enrolled in the full-time program.
Outcomes and Benefits
Students build on the credits they earned as well as the content they learned in their college program as they complete the courses to attain a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 12 months. They are then eligible to earn the professional designations that employers are seeking, such as the Certified General Accountant and the Certified Human Resource Professional.
The face-to-face sessions of the blended courses are offered at the local partner colleges and the class size is generally limited to 35.
Nipissing University is able to expand its student base and leverage its faculty expertise beyond North Bay. The partner colleges are able to offer their students a specially designed pathway to a degree and professional designations.
Challenges and Enhancements
The first term of the program can be a challenge for some college students as they adapt to university level courses, and to blended and online learning – all of which require more independent learning and higher levels of motivation for success.
The online instructors and course facilitators for each course work closely with each other to ensure that the learning outcomes are consistent. A strong, central infrastructure is essential to support the pedagogical and technical demands of the program.
The Course Facilitators are often senior managers who require some initial training and support to adjust to an academic teaching/learning environment. Herman Chang, the Program Manager, organizes a workshop for Online Instructors and Course Facilitators when a program is launched and also provides ongoing, informal training for new hires.
Although 80% to 90% of students choose the full-time option, a part-time option has been made available. The recommendation is that part-time students take two courses a term, so that the program may take up to seven to eight terms or about 30 months to complete. These students are provided with a road map so that they can map out their long-term course plan to ensure availability and completion of pre-requisite courses.
For Further Information
College Partnership Program
School of Business