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University colleges: Cozy ambience, big-time degree

Huron University College had everything Geoff Cork wanted in a university. Never heard of it? He hadn't either, until he visited the University of Western Ontario for a campus tour.

A graduate of a Toronto alternative school, the School of Liberal Arts, the 19-year-old says Huron reminded him of his high school's intimate, supportive atmosphere."It's more about smaller classes, one-on-one time with the professors. I wanted that," says Mr. Cork, now in his second year at Huron, which has about 1,100 students.

Canada's degree-granting university colleges, modelled after liberal arts colleges in the United States and Great Britain, are often touted as the best of both worlds: tight-knit communities partnered with some of the country's largest, most prestigious schools.

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Canada has 18 of these degree-granting university colleges, most of which are affiliated with a religion, and some which focus on a specific group, such as mature students or aboriginal students. Students take the college's courses and often live on separate campuses and have their own student services. But they receive their degree from the affiliated parent university and can also take courses at the university and use its services.

The country's oldest affiliated university college, Trinity, joined forces with the University of Toronto in 1851 and has ties to the Anglican Church, as does Huron, one of three colleges partnered with the University of Western Ontario, in London.

Other such schools include the adult-focused College of Extended Learning at the University of New Brunswick; the First Nations University of Canada and Campion College on the University of Regina campus; and University of Sudbury, federated with Laurentian University. Brescia University College at UWO, founded by the Ursuline Sisters, is Canada's only all-female university college.

UWO's third partnered school is King's University College, which is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Principal Gerry Killan says offering students a faith- or group-based learning environment doesn't mean small colleges are insular or isolated; in fact, being under the umbrella of a large university opens the students to a wider world.

"What you're doing here is dealing with diversity in a way that's representative of Canadian political culture and tradition. It's a win-win situation for both the larger universities and the colleges and the students," Dr. Killan says. "Catholicism does define our mission, our character and our identity at King's," he says. "We're fiercely proud of it. We're also fiercely proud of being open and having different cultures."

Religious affiliation does influence King's course offerings, he says, noting that the school offers programs such as Catholic studies, world religions, and social justice and peace studies. Its 3,000 full-time students are also free to take courses at one of UWO's other colleges or at the university itself, as long as they meet program requirements.

Dr. Killan says that King's entrance averages keep pace with Western's, and that none of the school's classes are larger than 95 students. King's offers its own residence services but pays fees to UWO so the students can use the athletic and recreation facilities on the larger campus, about a kilometre away.

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When it comes to King's student services, Dr. Killan says the focus is on "the development of the whole person." The school has a chapel and students can do volunteer work through a number of social organizations. Students are not required to attend church services.

"We're denominationally Catholic, but not in a sectarian way. We're publicly funded, through Western," Dr. Killan says. "The stuff we offer is of interest to all religions."

Mr. Cork says religion hasn't been a factor in his experiences at Anglican-affiliated Huron, which was founded in 1863 and is known for its theology and divinity programs. "The closest we have to a religious kind of thing is a theology course," he says, who doesn't identify with a specific religion. "There's no religious pressure in any direction." He says one of the best things about Huron is the small class size and strong professor-student relationships. His biggest class last year was 70 students, the smallest only 13.

Still, he says that he struggled to meet the academic demands of that first year, but that an experience with his business professor made all the difference. "He came up to me, and wanted to know why I was doing so poorly in the course," he recalls.

"I told him I wasn't doing my homework and wanted to get back on track." The professor helped him prepare for the exam with private study sessions and open office hours.

Along with individual attention from teachers, Mr. Cork says smaller schools have less administrative red tape and offer accessible guidance programs: "They seem to understand that students coming in first year can struggle."

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So far, he hasn't taken any classes at UWO, but says he doesn't feel isolated from the main university. "For actual academic purposes, there wasn't a lot of point to going to campus, but for everything else about the university experience, if you want to get involved in the clubs and stuff, it draws you in."


These former colleges graduated to full university status this year:

University Of The Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, B.C Formerly University College of the Fraser Valley

Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey, B.C. Formerly known as Kwantlen University College

Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, B.C. The former Malaspina University College.

Capilano University, North Vancouver, B.C. Formerly known as Capilano College

Emily Carr University Of Art + Design, Vancouver, B.C. Previously Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, this is its sixth name change since its 1925 incorporation


The Ontario College Of Art And Design in Toronto, which already has university status, is awaiting approval to change its name to OCAD University.

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