Queen’s and St Lawrence College–moving ahead together

On Thursday morning Nov. 3 I visited St Lawrence College, where I was joined by several of the vice-principals, some of the deans, and other colleagues. We were generously hosted by SLC president Chris Whittaker (Queen’s Artsci ’82) and his administrative colleagues. Media were on hand. The occasion was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between our two institutions.

Why is this a big deal? It’s not as if we have not had relations with St Lawrence before. In fact, there have been collaborations between our two schools for a long time, between specific programs and individual faculty members. And, of course, we have a well established and productive relationship with Kingston’s other university, the Royal Military College, including most recently the initiative in Military and Veterans’ Health Research. Our collaborations with local and regional hospitals, in which a great deal of teaching and research takes place, are equally well-established and mutually beneficial.

Notwithstanding these links, Queen’s historically has not, as an institution, done as much as some of our sister universities to collaborate openly with community colleges and indeed we have something of a reputation–not really a reflection of reality–for having resisted such overtures. In fairness, one major reason we have not has to do with historical differences in programming and mission: not every college program is mappable on to the first two years of university, any more than our courses map on to college offerings. (Though these differences are shrinking, a point to which I return below). Another has to do with simple space constraints. While the government has signified that it wishes to move toward a seamless transfer from two year colleges (some of which already offer applied degrees in certain areas) into universities, such an across-the-board block transfer arrangement would be deeply problematic for Queen’s as we simply do not have the room to accommodate a large additional intake of students into the large majority of our programs in their 3rd and 4th years. 94% of Queen’s students who start degrees with us also finish them. (In contrast, as a dean of faculties at two other institutions from 1999 to 2009, I often counted on college intake to make up enrolment numbers as retention figures there were not as robust, and first year intakes sometimes fell short of target).

The MOU commits us to work with St Lawrence on a strategic level, to find areas where we can mutually assist each other (which may, ultimately, include intakes of their graduates into the upper years of our programs, where space permits and where the students are academically qualified). But the relations of colleges and universities are no longer defined solely by college-to-university transfer. Quite the contrary, there has been an increasing trend in recent years of our graduates (and those of other universities) to seek an additional one- or two-year qualification at a college. At least two Queen’s alumni whom I follow on twitter have been, for instance, enrolled in media and marketing programs at Humber College. Given this trend, are there opportunities for us to engage more systematically with colleges, and in particular with SLC. I believe that there are, and in the coming months a working committee will be exploring a number of these. I hope that within a year we will have some concrete proposals for programmatic collaboration to bring through the governance processes of both institutions.

The MOU itself, while of symbolic importance in signifying that we are open for business with other parts of the Ontario PSE system, is just a beginning, a framework. The real test of it will be whether we can realize some concrete collaborations in the next few years that will help both institutions, and our students, and which will provide Kingston and eastern Ontario with a more powerful collective higher education environment. That, in turn, can benefit the community and the region in the medium to long term by making it an education destination of choice, which in turn will help attract industry, create jobs, and keep more of our graduates working here.

As with our older relationship with RMC, the end goal of our discussions in the coming months should be ‘win-win’ for both St Lawrence College and Queen’s.

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