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Many college business programs include co-op placements for students at businesses, such as these George Brown students.

George Brown College

As student enrolment grows at college business programs, two business deans talk about what attracts students.

Enrolment in business, management and public administration programs at Canada's more than 120 community colleges rose 11.5 per cent from 2005 to 2011, to more than 130,000, according to Statistics Canada.

"One key difference [from university programs] is that college programs are applied in nature. In other words, in the way we approach teaching and learning, the theory of subject matter is combined with the practice of skills required by employers in the various fields of business or sectors we serve," says Maureen Loweth, dean of Business, Arts & Design at George Brown College.

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That college has one of the largest student bodies enrolled in business programs in Ontario and in Canada, with about 4,100 students in 2013.

George Brown offers 20 programs – more will be offered next year – across four schools: the School of Accounting and Finance, School of Human Resources, School of Management and School of Marketing. Last year, more than 1,200 George Brown business grads received diplomas, advanced diplomas, degrees and graduate certificates.

"Another key point of differentiation between college and university business programs concerns the academic credentials offered. In colleges, and in George Brown's business programs, we offer a wide range of credentials – everything from two– and three-year diplomas to four-year bachelor degrees, to one-year graduate certificates," Ms. Loweth says.

Most George Brown programs – in fact, many college business programs across Canada – offer co-operative education or some other form of experiential learning, which is highly attractive to students and employers.

This is also the case at Humber College Institute of Technical and Advanced Learning, where Alvina Cassiani is dean of the college's business school.

Humber currently graduates 250 students, Ms. Cassiani says. It will offer 10 BComm degrees this fall, including fashion management, international business, finance, human resource management, supply chain management, business marketing and business administration.

Students may come to college for economic reasons, or might be daunted by large class sizes at a university, the deans say.

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"College is a great place for new immigrants, as well as international students," Ms. Cassiani adds. Business programs attract the highest number of international students at George Brown.

"The faculty-to-student ratio is lower at college than at university. And the hands-on case approach helps emphasize the applied and practical side of learning. Theory still underpins what we teach in the classroom but we emphasize the practical and applied side," Ms. Cassiani says.

Many colleges also offer postgraduate business certificates for students who completed a university degree in topics such as history or political science, but really didn't know what to do with the credential, she says.

"I'd call that a reverse transfer. It's university students… coming to the college as a 'finishing school,' " she says.

The practical approach at colleges, and their approach to setting up students for jobs in their industry of choice, also appeals to them, says George Brown's Ms. Loweth. According to the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, the schools have more than 4,500 partnerships with companies. James Knight, president and CEO of the ACCC, said 83 to 95 per cent of college grads (depending on the region) were able to find jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities in their field within six months of graduation.

"Students are generally looking for business programs that are aligned with industry credentials so that they have an edge in the job market. They appreciate having professors who have experience and who stay current in their field," Ms. Cassiani says.

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Students must complete a paid internship between their third and forth year, before graduating at Humber, she says. Placement officers help the students find work experience.

"They hit the ground running because they are really prepared for the job market," she adds.

College business programs can also include an entrepreneurial approach.

"We have courses that allow students to hone their entrepreneurship skills. We have a New Venture Fund within the institution, and if you have a business idea, you can also be awarded money within the institution – a bit like [the TV reality show] Dragon's Den. There's about $8,000 awarded to each student."

Applied research is another option for students.

"Many of our students are involved in client-based research projects as part of the curriculum," Ms. Loweth says. There are almost 400 specialized research centres and labs affiliated with colleges and the 524 areas of research includes natural resources, environment, health and communication.

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Students work in teams to solve employer challenges, including doing market research to launch a new product, a marketing plan to help a business owner reposition their business, or work with potential business owners to develop their business plan to secure financial support.

Jobs Fairs are organized by a number of schools in collaboration with Career Services.

"We have a great working relationship with our Career Centre," George Brown's Ms. Loweth says. The college's jobs board allows employers to post positions, and about a third of all jobs posted are looking for business students and grads.

Similarly, in Humber's fashion management course, students deliver a plan for a business idea.

"We get people in the industry to sit in and evaluate those projects, as well. We have Winners – a division of TJX – who often come and participate. We're connected with The Bay as well; and financial institutions. They all play a role in ensuring that students get their input on their projects," Ms. Cassiani says.

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