University can be more than just a degree

With more students enrolled in universities each year across the province and more questions raised regarding the value and benefit of the undergraduate program, universities are increasingly being innovated in what they offer and how they structure their programs.

“There is an increased number in students but there are also so many options to degrees now,” said Jonathan Finn, associate dean and associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, who believes university degrees maintain their value despite the increase in accessibility.

Some of the many forms a degree can take, he explained, now include business or management options, combined degree programs and programs hosted in conjunction with local colleges, which overall can be further supplemented with items such as the co-curricular record.

“It’s not like we’re producing thousands and thousands of people with identical degrees, each one has different types of skill sets that lend themselves to different employment options than others,“ he said.

Wellie Chihaluca, a second-year global studies and political science major at WLU, can relate to the many options universities provide their students as she mentioned that Laurier has the “global studies experience” which made her choose global studies over other programs.

The global studies experience is a program run through the department that allows students to live and work abroad.

Chihaluca feels that if universities were able to have more initiatives added on to an undergraduate degree, similar to the global studies experience, it would make universities more innovative.

However, no place is perfect, and many universities can try to distinguish themselves from others by implementing group based work, that reflects the work-place environment, as suggested by Sean Madden, president of Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Association (OUSA) and vice president: university affairs at Laurier.

Madden also suggested that universities should try, “To get students to set their own terms of reference, like coming up with some sort of project like having students do a thesis or a big project over the course of a year, tends to get them to check back so that they feel that they’ve actually accomplished something rather than maybe just cramming for a midterm and then forgetting the first half of the course material, then cramming for a final.

“So really coming up with a subject or a project that will keep the student engaged in it all for a term or even better a year,” added Madden.

Madden suggested that if both universities and the community incorporate what they have to offer to students, whether the students are volunteering in a field of their academic focus or not, these students would be getting practical skills that should be recognized by university institutions, since these skills will be beneficial to students when transitioning into the workplace environment.

“Something Laurier is getting pretty good at, and they are working at getting better at, is recognizing a student outside of the classroom and outside of campus. So I think universities can stand to look at what students are doing in extracurricular, I think that there should be some academic recognition of that,” said Madden.

According to Madden, universities have a responsibility to innovate what they have to offer an undergraduate student, however, a large part of the responsibility still lies within the student themselves.

“You have to do what you want to do, and yeah, it’s about balance and compromise,” he said.

“So you need to weigh the financial factors and whether you’re committed to going down the line, but you also need to be true to your own passions and interests. I would never advise a student to do something that they are not interested in.”

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