Colleges and universities re-think how to best serve mature students

With the population of older workers rising, it is becoming increasingly important for governments, employers and educational institutes to invest in adult training and education. According to Statistics Canada, 54% of Canadians aged 25 to 64 have a college or university credential; 28.5% have a bachelor’s degree. These numbers are up from previous years and the number of adults returning to school after entering the workforce continues to increase (Sta18). This shift is prompting educational institutions to take creative approaches to serving mature students.

Who is deemed a mature student?
Mature students, as the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) has characterized them, are individuals who enter or re-enter post-secondary after the age of 25 and have previous mid-level work experience. These students enter post-secondary for a variety of reasons. Some go back to gain skills for a new career while others are seeking an advanced credential to help them progress in their current career. These individuals often have a vast amount of workplace training that has given them invaluable skills that cannot be taught through formal education programs. However, in many cases, post-secondary institutions and employers do not recognize this prior learning.

The Advanced Placement and Prior Learning (APPL) program at BCIT supports mature students into higher education.
The Advanced Placement and Prior Learning APPL program at BCIT supports mature students into higher education

Their educational experiences
Prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR), or recognition of prior learning (RPL), lets individuals use knowledge and skills learned formally or informally or through experience to gain exemption from particular courses. RPL is key to the pursuit of education by mature students. It is estimated that 300,000 Canadians are being held back from pursuing education due to lack of recognition, and that 185,000 of these individuals are unlikely to pursue higher education credentials because they are not confident their existing education and skills will be recognized.

BCIT’s approach to mature military students
BCIT School of Business and SITE Centre Director Kevin Wainwright and his team understood the importance of investing in mature students by recognizing the skills they acquired at work. In 2009, they started analyzing the training and education acquired by Canadian Armed Forces members. Findings revealed military members have many of the skills employers are looking for. Further findings demonstrated that in terms of content and number of hours spent on training and education, military training is equivalent to a non-business technical diploma.

BCIT’s School of Business has many programs in which students can be granted advanced placement into second year. One of the requirements for this is a diploma or degree from a post-secondary institution or a significant amount of management work experience. Once BCIT determined a specific threshold of military training and experience is equivalent to a diploma, it was decided military members can be eligible for advanced placement just as those with individuals with a diploma or degree.

This research led the SITE Centre to create the Advanced Placement and Prior Learning (APPL) program, which translates students’ military training into post-secondary credits. It allows military members to take advantage of a fast-tracked route for earning a credential, providing them advanced placement into the second year of BCIT’s business education programs. Students who have successfully passed their assessments have been able to earn diplomas in only one year and bachelor’s degrees in two years. Further, these students often earn higher grades when compared to the regular-entry students. To date, 65 military students have graduated from the APPL program, and 85 are currently enrolled.

A national model
In 2015, the Canadian government granted the BCIT SITE Centre $830,000 to expand its model nationally by collaborating with other Canadian post-secondary institutes. BCIT has collaborated with 17 partner institutes through its National Advanced Placement and Prior Learning (N-APPL) program, including Saskatchewan Polytechnic and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Sharing the APPL methodology has allowed BCIT to demonstrate its unique model to other institutes, while at the same time learning what other institutes are doing to recognize military service.

The APPL program has expanded significantly to include additional mature student groups including first responders, tradespeople, individuals with foreign credentials, and general mature students with supervisory and management experience. Four hundred students from these additional mature student groups are currently enrolled in programs and 110 have graduated after being given advanced standing through the APPL Program at BCIT. The program has also expanded to include partnerships with private post-secondary institutions, including Vancouver Film School and Sprott Shaw College.

The widespread benefits of RPL
The positive impact of recognizing prior learning goes beyond just the student, who benefits by having a shorter road to earning a credential. In the classroom, a diverse group of students means varying perspectives, which enriches the educational experience for all. At the industry level, the APPL assessment process validates the legitimacy of workplace training, and it helps with workforce planning and career development for employees. When it comes to Canada’s economy, the APPL program maximizes people potential and in the long run it may increase tax revenue by opening up pathways to higher-paying jobs for many Canadians

Recognition of prior learning teaches us that learning comes in many forms, not only in a formal classroom setting. As the number of mature students entering or re-entering post-secondary programs increases, colleges and universities have started to realize the positive impact of valuing prior learning. By considering alternative forms of learning and creating educational pathways that fit this unique group, post-secondary institutes can better meet the needs of mature students.

(This story first published in CareerWise on January 11, 2019, written by Sonia Dhaliwa)

Are you a mature student interested in pursuing a higher education with BCIT? Learn more online or contact the BCIT Advanced Placement and Prior Learning Program.

2 thoughts on “Colleges and universities re-think how to best serve mature students”

  1. BCIT from what I have seen in comparison to the other polytechnics and universities is amazing. Your school (BCIT overall) has an hybrid offering in that there able to offer University Baccalaureate degrees, yet also offer Diploma Programs. Your diploma programs in business and engineering technologies are REALLY GOOD in terms of transferring credits to continue a University Program or starting from scratch (amazing grounding in academics and skills received in the diploma programs).

    Please don’t change to become a University. Why ? University is not for everybody, however the training and grounding received in Diploma programs (which cannot be offered if granted University Status) really prepare people for jobs and the real world, with pragmatic and real-world application skills.

    Your Bachelor in Engineering Programs are amazing. Loves your programs, because it is an actual University degree, however where BCIT is not a University, the professors, and TA’s are not tied down being “slave to their research” and have lots more time to provide classroom instruction, really giving an excellent grounding and foundation to BCIT Engineering Grads. For all intents and purposes, please stay a primarily undergraduate institution, as the most important degree is your Undergrad and where your skills and grounding is received.

    Believe me, total BCIT wannabe for Business/Engineering, but I think my English skills say otherwise.

    Keep doing what your all doing, you all seriously have it down, and don’t fix that isn’t broken.

  2. Please never consider university status. The technology and trade programs offered are outstanding and it would be a great loss to see that go . Much more needs to be done to promote technology and trades. However, the theory portion of courses could move online which would make education more affordable to all.


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