Bidirectional Transfer Pathway for Ontario’s Engineering and Technology Programs

Hannah Smith, M. Roxanna Gholami, Alexandra Downie, Brian Frank, Roderick Turner, Nerissa Mulligan, Jake Kaupp
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Executive Summary

The viability of a multi-institutional transfer pathway between engineering technology advanced diploma and engineering degree programs in Ontario has been an ongoing discussion for decades. Several recent ONCAT studies have moved this discourse forward substantively. This study combined previous findings with extensive additional research to produce a viable advanced diploma to degree transfer pathway model. The study also yielded the finding that, given the low volume and highly individualized circumstances of students transferring in other direction, pathway bi-directionality is not warranted at this time.

The study reached these results through investigation of the following key research questions:

1) What is the current landscape of engineering and engineering technology transfer in Canada?
a. What current practices exist for engineering transfer?
b. What bridging programs or transfer agreements are in place, and how were they created? What are the experiences of students who have followed those paths?
c. What risks and pitfalls are concomitant with engineering transfer?

2) How much commonality is there between engineering and engineering technology curricula, from the perspectives of course content, learning outcomes, and accreditation criteria?

3) How can these findings contribute to the development of a large-scale, bi-directional engineering transfer pathway?

Due to the range and complexity of the research questions, multiple research methods were employed. In-depth interviews with key stakeholders in extant and attempted transfer pathway programs were conducted. Students and graduates of existing transfer programs were interviewed. Discussions with content specialists, and both regulator and accreditor consultants were had. Previous study findings, literature, and publicly available information were reviewed carefully to ensure that the assessment had been comprehensive.

In addition to these qualitative techniques, a quantitative, detailed gap analysis was conducted for Civil, Mechanical and Electrical engineering programs between institutions whose programs were determined to be a potentially good fit for a future pilot program. The analysis involved comparisons of program course descriptions, learning outcomes (LOs), and assigned accreditation units (AUs).

Key research results can be summarized as follows:

1) Analysis confirmed that the advanced diploma to degree pathway meets an identified need and has growth potential. It was also confirmed that increasing access to engineering degrees in this manner offers the potential to diversify engineering program student populations, as college pathways to engineering degrees have been demonstrated to disproportionately benefit visible minorities. Transfer pathways have been established successfully in other provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta but, due to the Ontario college system having been established independently of the universities, infrastructure differences preclude directly adopting any of these. There are successful institution-specific pathways in Ontario as well and it would be expedient to develop any multi-institutional model with the flexibility to include them. There is much to be learned from all extant and attempted pathway models. It was also confirmed that students transferring from engineering degree to engineering technology advanced diplomas are doing so overwhelmingly in response to academic failure. This leads to highly individualized transcripts, which in combination with the low numbers, preclude investment in a bi-directional pathway at this time.

2) A detailed gap analysis of the commonality between engineering and engineering technology curricula for three disciplines revealed that the missing coursework could not be contained to a single bridge term, but that there were a number of possibilities for integrating additional courses prior to transfer and during program completion at the receiving institution. Interview findings highlighted the importance of student supports being offered in transfer success.

3) Analysis of the combined research findings made it possible to develop a three-phase engineering advanced diploma to engineering degree transfer pathway model, designed with the flexibility to incorporate extant institution specific transfer pathways, while also providing a solid foundation for development of a pilot multi-institutional transfer pathway:

Phase 1 (Transfer Preparation) is completed while the student is still enrolled in their advanced diploma program. Qualifying students are supported in incorporating additional courses that have been identified as filling engineering program gaps and being feasible to undertake in addition to the advanced diploma workload. There are three possible delivery mechanisms for such courses: in house, on-line, or at geographically convenient institutions. Students may also decide to take courses during or outside of term, depending on availability.

Phase 2 (Bridge Term) is completed at a designated Bridge Institution prior to entering the receiving degree granting Institution. A block of missing courses is delivered as a cohesive session.

Phase 3 (Program Completion) is completed while attending the receiving degree granting Institution. Students are supported in creating a plan to incorporate all remaining missing courses. Courses may be taken in house or on-line. In some instances, courses that might otherwise be designated as electives will be requisite for transfer students in order to ensure that they meet the missing AU requirements.

The pathway model was reviewed with study partners and institutions that would be interested in such a multi-institutional pilot were identified for future reference. The response was positive. A review by regulator and accreditor consultants was also favourable.

The study’s success in developing a viable transfer pathway model paves the way for the development of a pilot program. This could be initially implemented in stages with the subset of identified interested institutions and then expanded province wide.