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report on business education, spring 2012

Kristin Burns, who has a degree in political science and French from the University of Western Ontario, took a sport and event marketing program at George Brown College after a four-year stint working.

Kristin Burns landed a job in sales and marketing when she graduated with a degree in political science and French from the University of Western Ontario in 2007.

During a four-year stint with Amway Canada Corp., the 26-year-old from London, Ont., worked on a sponsorship project for a national soccer tournament that piqued her interest in a new career.

Last fall, she went back to school – this time to George Brown College in Toronto – for a one-year certificate in sport and event marketing. In addition to classroom studies, the program includes a four-month internship and networking events through the year.

"I think programs like mine are really geared to getting you that job," Ms. Burns says. "It gives you something a little more specialized and credentialed."

Her sentiment is one reason for a dramatic rise in business programs at many colleges, which in turn have diversified course offerings and credentials in response to student and industry demand.

In Ontario, for example, enrolment in college business programs rose to 177,351 in 2011, a 19 per cent jump from 2006, according to the Ontario College Application Service.

OCAS also reports the number of one-year post-graduate certificates (a diploma or degree is usually a prerequisite) jumped 49 per cent to 6,205 in 2011 over the same period, while specialty diplomas in human resources rose 23 per cent.

Similar patterns are evident outside Ontario. At Calgary's 12,500-student Bow Valley College, those in business programs account for one-quarter of total enrolment.

As part of a college-wide expansion, Bow Valley has added an average of two new business programs a year, contributing to a 36-per-cent rise in enrolment over the past five years. This fall, the college will offer two new diplomas and a certificate in sustainable business management.

"An increasing number of students are coming with post-secondary credentials," observes Elza Bruk, dean of the business department at Bow Valley. "They have a broad-based, nice liberal arts degree, but to be an event planner they need specific skills."

In Prince Edward Island, Holland College offers a mix of one- and two-year diplomas and one-year certificates, with a 56.5-per-cent growth in enrolment to 773 in 2011 from 2009, according to program manager Tim McRoberts.

"Enrolment has generally increased in targeted areas, such as business administration, tourism and travel management and advertising management," he says.

Other college officials predict rising demand for graduates with job-ready credentials.

"Over one-third of the jobs posted on our online job boards are for business graduates," says Maureen Loweth, George Brown dean of business, arts and design. "The demand is there and our aim is to develop workplace-ready graduates."

George Brown aims to boost its roster of 3,200 business students to 5,000 by 2018. That means an additional 12 programs (some still need provincial government approval), with credentials ranging from a one-year certificate and three-year diploma to a four-year degree.

Unlike universities, colleges have a mandate to work with employers, who offer job market advice and co-op education placements. Typically, George Brown takes about 18 months to develop a new program, including consultation with industry, says Elizabeth Speers, director of the school's Centre for Business.

"A lot of people are retiring and we have to fill those positions," says Ms. Speers, citing one reason for employer interest. But globalization and near-constant changes to business operations also mean the curriculum must be updated to keep pace, she says.

In northwest Toronto, Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning is also on an expansion kick.

Already a big player in business education, the college recorded a 44.6 per cent increase in enrolment to 14,900 in 2011 over 2006. Humber added a new bachelor of commerce degree in accounting last fall, quickly filling seats. The college plans to add a bachelor of international development this September and is seeking provincial government approval for four new degrees, possibly by 2013.

Some of the demand is fed by employers.

Bow Valley, with employment rates of 91 per cent to 97 per cent for certificate and diploma graduates over the past four years, consults industry and other officials before introducing new programs.

For example, the college concluded there would be demand for graduates from a new diploma in public relations, given the state of the Calgary economy and local business interest in hiring for entry-to-mid-level positions. The college will offer the new diploma this fall, in partnership with Edmonton's Grant MacEwan University.

"I think there will be quite a bit of interest [by employers]in talking to these graduates immediately," predicts Rosemarie Enslin, president of her Calgary public relations and marketing firm, Enslin Group, and among those consulted on the new diploma.

But demand also comes from university graduates who want what colleges offer: industry internships and job-ready skills.

That's why Ms. Burns chose George Brown.

"The biggest experience this [sport and event marketing]course has given me personally is the networking opportunities," she says. At a school-sponsored "speed mentoring" night, she and other students met program graduates and industry executives who shared their insights.

Just months before she graduates in August, Ms. Burns is confident about her prospects: "[It]has given me an idea of what career path I would like to take."

Special to The Globe and Mail