Archive for March, 2011

3 Questions to Ask Before Choosing your Post-Secondary Path: Part 3

3.   Will my choice leave the door open for further studies?

To this point, we have discussed the importance of discovering how well your credential will hold up in the job market.  We have also gone a step further to determine how valuable the program is from a student perspective.  If you have made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back, most of the hard work is done!  But before you make a final decision, there is one last inquiry you will want to explore.  How well positioned will you leave yourself for further studies if you decide on this particular program?  Will you have an opportunity to apply your credits towards a more advanced certification down the road?

In a rapidly changing labour market, you need to be prepared to face the reality that this might not be the last time you find yourself out of a job.  It is not unusual for people to transition careers several times, which may require more than one round of skills upgrading.  The days of staying in one career for the bulk of your working life are behind us.  Our economy is evolving at a rate we’ve never seen before.  50% of working people have been with their current employer for less than 5 years.  Keeping your skills and knowledge-base sharp and current is the most effective way to navigate these changes.  And given that 77% of new jobs created in the BC economy over the next decade will require a trade certification, college diploma, university degree or higher, the transferability of your credential should be a focus of your decision-making process.  In other words, you will want to ask yourself: if I get this certificate or diploma now, how much will my completed coursework be worth if I want to go back to school to get my degree later?

Again, there is a major distinction here between public and private schools.  If you choose a private school (barring a few targeted exceptions) you need to be aware that you probably won’t be able to use your credits towards any higher certifications.   There is no transfer system in place for private education in BC.  If you have aspirations to turn your diploma into a degree in the future a private school is not likely going to be an option for you.

There are a handful of niche program areas that operate outside of this common framework.  For example, in certain cases, some private institutions will allow students to use a Licensed Practical Nursing diploma towards an advanced certification in Psychiatric Nursing.  But scenarios like this one represent rare exceptions to the general rule.  I seldom come across examples where a private school program is used as a stepping stone to higher studies.  Also keep in mind that almost without exception (in fact, I’ve never seen it) private school education can’t be applied towards a public school credential.  So if you are thinking about enrolling in a program at a private school, you should be aware that your options for transferability may be limited.  Thoroughly investigate whether your choice will leave any doors open for taking your education to the next level.  Discuss your options with an advisor at the school.

On the other hand, public school programs do transfer between one another, both within the same institution and to external schools as well.  For example, if you take a diploma program and a public college (say Douglas), you will get at least partial course credit if you want to use it towards a related university degree (say from Simon Fraser) later on.  The BC Transfer Guide is a great tool to help you determine how “transferable” public school certificates and diplomas are to higher level degrees.  The proportions are based on the similarity of the course content.  If some of the courses you take at the certificate or diploma level are identical or similar to courses offered in a degree program, you could potentially get up to 100% credit for the work you’ve already completed.   Making this assessment ahead of time will grant you more flexibility and save you time if you do hope to advance your education to an even higher level.  Why pay and do the work twice if you don’t have to!?

In all, you should use each of these questions to treat your education like an investment, because that is exactly what it is.  Make the effort to know as much about the investment as possible before you put money and time into it.  You want to be aware of the potential risks and rewards, and make a calculated decision based upon that information.  After all, you wouldn’t throw a chunk of your life savings into a high risk stock with little or no potential for a profitable return, so why would anyone want to do that with their post-secondary studies?  By doing the right homework before you get started, you won’t have to!

*Ryan Paulson is a Career & Employment Information Specialist @ Pacific Community Resources Society.  He contributes to the MyERC blog through www.myerc.ca.  Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn at http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/ryan-paulson/15/603/11b.

2 Comments

3 Questions to Ask Before Choosing your Post-Secondary Path: Part 2

2.  What is the student experience? Are the graduates working?

In part 1 of this series, we assessed the importance of determining whether your school/program of choice has a strong reputation with people in the industry.  This is only one piece of the puzzle (albeit a very important one!).  But what should you do if you are getting mixed reviews from employers in the field?  What if some of them are telling you that they prefer their new hires to be trained at a different institution?  This scenario is entirely possible.  Employers will have differing preferences in where to look when hiring new graduates.  This is often driven by previous experience.  A company is more likely to hold a positive view of a program if it has hosted practicum placements or offered internships to students with success in the past.  Be aware of this potential bias and know that it doesn’t necessarily mean your program isn’t effective.  You simply could have gotten unlucky by connecting with an unrepresentative sample of employers (but you should take note if they are ALL telling you they prefer a different program than the one you’re thinking of!).

To fully gauge a program’s effectiveness, you need to take your research a step further by assessing the student experience.  Did past students find their training useful?  Would they recommend the program to someone else?  Having discussions with industry employers ahead of time is critical.  But another key consideration to make when deciding on what training to get and where to get it, is to determine what proportion of past graduates were actually able to find work in their chosen field.   In other words, is the program adequate in preparing students for post-program employment?

This can be easy or difficult to find out, depending on your school and program of choice.  In BC, the provincial government conducts follow-up research with public school students to determine what happened to them after graduating from various programs.  The results are published in the BC Student Outcomes survey.  In these reports, you can find a wealth of fist-hand feedback from previous students including how long it took them to find a job upon completion, how relevant their training was to getting a job, how difficult the program was and how well prepared they feel for further studies (an important concept we will explore further in part 3 of this series).  This will help you get a better sense of what the student experience in the program is actually like.  Did the students enjoy the program?  Was it a valuable learning experience?  What major skills did they develop?  Was the quality of instruction adequate?  These are all questions the BC Student Outcomes reports can answer.   They are also very valuable for comparing post-program employment results for different schools offering certifications in similar areas of study.

For private schools, this task can be a bit more tedious.  Many post their outcome statistics right on their websites, but the numbers are usually representative of the whole school (not program-by-program) and the accuracy of them can be suspect.  I encourage people to schedule a meeting with an advisor at the private school they are thinking about attending to ask about graduation outcomes.  Be sure to dig deeper when they claim X percentage of their graduates are working in their field.  Where did those numbers come from?  How can I be confident they are accurate?  Does the school have strong relationships with local employers?  Do student practicums often result in jobs?  Being diligent on this front is especially important for private schools because they are private businesses whose primary concern is generating revenue.   In some cases, this objective can come at the expense of educational quality.  Be cautious if the school streamlines you through the admissions process with little or no pre-screening.  This should serve as a red flag that the institution might be more focused on getting people enrolled than helping them find jobs in their field after graduation.

Getting first-hand feedback on the quality of education previous students received in your program/school is just as important as soliciting input from employers in the field.  Attending post-secondary studies means sacrificing a year or more of your time.  So make sure it will be time well spent.   Confirm that those who went through before you were satisfied with the skills they learned and the employment prospects they were exposed to upon completion!

Ryan Paulson is a Career & Employment Information Specialist @ Pacific Community Resources Society.  He contributes to the MyERC blog through www.myerc.ca.  Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn.

2 Comments