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The Yukon University Question, Part 2

September 2011
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This second consideration does have some relationship to part one. Let’s consider the question of cost from another perspective: is it better to redefine Yukon College to become a university or to start a completely different institution and what are the ramifications? Most of us quickly appreciate the first ramification, namely, a far greater cost to build a new university infrastructure. However, for a specific and important reason, it is probably better to build a new university rather than changing the College.

To appreciate this, put yourself in the shoes of a university student. You’ve just spent $60-80,000 for a four-year degree program and have been handed a piece of paper for your efforts. What is that piece of paper worth?

We can all accept that a degree from one institution carries more weight that from others. Having an engineering degree from, say MIT, is certainly more prestigious than one from a smaller, lesser known school. Reputation alone is not the only factor. Is the university that issued your degree actually even accredited? In short, did the piece of paper you received have any other value than the snazzy bond paper it’s printed on?

In Canada, there is no formal accreditation program for universities; however, there is a de facto standard. This is provincial/territorial legislation granting the institution the ability to confer degrees and institutional membership in the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). Membership is based on a broad range of criteria, including experience and credentials of your faculty, quality of programs, library and other reference holdings, facilities, etc. However, another membership criterion is that the institution must offer a full program or programs of undergraduate and/or graduate studies. Offering a limited number of degree specializations, such as offering only the suggested concentration of a degree in climate change, means that the institution would never be accredited and that their degrees would largely be seen as having little more credibility than those issued by diploma mills that sell you a diploma for a fee: no class work or assignments, but no real degree, either.

Another important criterion is that the institution must have had 500 full time students or their equivalent (FTE) in university programs for the last two years. Yukon College has a bit over 500 FTEs, but only a small number are in university programs. These would be students in the Northern Studies Diploma and existing degree programs. One former requirement that AUCC required, and it is difficult to determine if it still exists, is that more than 50% of your programs must be university ones. This was in place two years ago when the then president unsuccessfully discussed membership with AUCC. Also, it means that the institution must open and accept students with the proviso that they will be committing the first two years of their education to an unaccredited university. If it fails to get accredited for one reason or another until after you finish your degree, you have a piece of paper for your efforts and maybe not much more.

Given the broad range of programs covered by the college, the 50% rule would mean having a slightly more than equitable increase in the number of university programs offered. In my last posting, I discussed the costs associated with offering a broad range of degrees and specializations. For accreditation purposes, these expensive options would be a necessity. However, starting from scratch and not having to have more university than non-university programs may make membership easier than expanding the role of the College. It will, however, require a substantial infrastructure investment to create a new institution and doing so could easily fall into the $150-250 million bracket.

Opening another institution has other implications though. The college has university transfer courses that allow students to do up to the first two years of their degree locally and finish at another institution (the College motto is “Start here, go anywhere,” after all). Given the amount of competition for students, it would probably be safe to assume that much of what happened in Prince George would probably occur here. Since the university course option existed with the formation of the University of Northern BC, the College of New Caledonia stopped offering university transfer courses as a cost reduction strategy. Doing so here would mean that the lower cost tuition option students have of doing courses at Yukon College would probably be removed at some point. Given the heavy subsidization from the government that two separate institutions would require, it is a good guess that YTG would probably act very quickly to set this in place.

Part 3, and probably the last one, to follow…

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