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Indigenous Institutes and Seamless Transfer: Integrating Access and Admissions as Part of Student Mobility

April 4, 2022 Partners: First Nations Technical Institute, Kenjgewin Teg, Seven Generations Education Institute Authors: Dr. Joyce Helmer, Adam Hopkins & Sarah Mignault, First Nations Technical Institute, Beverley Carter-Roy & Mark Gibeault, Kenjgewin Teg (KTEI), Angela Mainville & Dr. Brendan Smyth, Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI)

Project Spotlight by Meryl Borato, Knowledge Mobilization Specialist, ONCAT

Project: Indigenous Institutes and Seamless Transfer: Integrating Access and Admissions as Part of Student Mobility


The First Nations Technical Institute, Kenjgewin Teg, and Seven Generations Education Institute developed a learner-centered admissions process and program that removes application and admissions barriers and provides opportunities for upgrading, upskilling, continuous professional development, and dual credit options for Indigenous learners.

Why It Matters

There is an urgent need to decolonize admissions processes in post-secondary institutions. According to the authors, “The Western educational system is based on many unspoken assumptions, including a preference for knowledge derived from Western tools of data collection and record-keeping. Information that cannot be quantified—such as cultural autonomy or community wisdom—is typically overlooked in conversations about the purpose of education.” The goal for this project is to change the language and philosophy of admissions processes so that it is more inclusive, holistic, and reflects and honours Indigenous world views.

A key priority for ONCAT is supporting pathways and transfer opportunities among Indigenous Institutes, colleges, and universities that benefit Indigenous learners. As Indigenous Institutes expand their programs and offerings, there are opportunities to design transferability into the process. This project is an important model of how this work can happen.

What They Found

Indigenous Institutes partner with other postsecondary education (PSE) institutions to offer diplomas and degrees. Because of this partnership, the Institutes have generally relied on their partners’ policies for admissions and decision making. In reviewing these processes, the team identified challenges, gaps, and barriers and classified these into three areas of focus: 1) Process/Procedure; 2) Academic; and 3) Social/Emotional.

Table 1

They then created new processes and frameworks that directly address these barriers and gaps.

Transforming the Admissions Process

The one-year admissions entry program, known as the Good rED Road Program, is designed to create and support trusting relationships and career counselling while assisting admissions and student support teams to get a deeper understanding of what the learner wants to do. The program combines a variety of opportunities for learners to engage with many school personnel (faculty, Elder Advisors, other learners, Leaders, etc.) to locate themselves within this environment firmly prior to choosing a discipline.

“One element of a holistic admissions process is to establish an interrelationship with the whole person and all that surrounds them, including one’s spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional aspects. An individual is comprised of a body, mind, and spirit. To provide a successful alignment between the learner and the institution, we believe it is critical to attend to each component.”  --Indigenous Institutes and Seamless Transfer: Integrating Access and Admissions as Part of Student Mobility

The Program is framed by three guiding questions which assists with the identification, guidance, planning, coordinating, and implementation of a full range of educational explorations. This framework also allows each institution to adapt, optimize, and realign their admissions services to achieve a comprehensive continuum of quality and service to the learners and their families.

Figure 2

During these stages, learners ask themselves, “Who am I? Where am I going? What is my relationship to education?” This continuum aligns with the four basic stages of the admissions process. Program components include personal wellness, relationship building, Indigenous worldview and history, academic readiness, career exploration, and portfolio development.

Using Teaching and Learning Lodges as a Framework for PLAR, Now PLRR

In addition to creating a new admissions framework, the team also revised practices related to Prior Learning and Recognition (PLAR)—when a higher education institution gives some form of credit recognition to a student’s informal learning and experience. In the report, they say: “Our current admissions enrollment experiences involve static metrics that are fairly regimented and formulaic and do not include opportunities to learn about the whole person. This prescriptive process is time-consuming, expensive, and often frustrating for the learners, faculty, and other admissions team members. Applying for transfer credits or advanced standing involves lengthy portfolio development which sometimes spans a complete semester.”

In response to these challenges, the partnering Institutes developed a new framework for PLAR using the metaphor of teaching and learning lodges. They also renamed the process of prior learning to Prior Learning Recognition and Renewal (PLRR). This change prioritizes a guided engagement process that ultimately reflects the learner’s distinct identity to scaffold their goals for self-actualization. PLRR has a dual focus: Teaching and Learning. This means that admissions teams and faculty become learners, and, in turn, learners become teachers. While the admissions personnel and faculty provide teaching opportunities and choices, the learners provide information concerning goals, needs, wants, and dreams. This reciprocity takes on a different rhythm for everyone, but it includes shared decision making as a core tenet.

“Teaching Lodges (sometimes known as Houses) come in many forms across the Indigenous territories. For example, the Haudenosaunee Peoples belong to Longhouses and Anishinabek Peoples create Sweat Lodges, Healing Lodges, and other ceremonial Lodges to honour and show gratitude and respect for culture and beliefs. The overarching intention in Teaching Lodges is to ultimately support and strengthen the individual, family, community, and nation. Each Lodge responds to the needs of their own citizens. This framework respects all cultures and recognizes the cultural diversity inherent in our communities.” --Final Report

Figure 3

The Visioning Lodge

All potential learners would enter this Learning Lodge and spend some time meeting with Elder Advisors, Student Success Facilitators, Pathways Coordinators and so forth to begin to gather information about the learner’s credentials and goals. A wholistic inventory of potential attributes are gathered to provide a fulsome representation of the learner.

The Relationship and Renewal Lodge

Information could then be shared with the Pathways personnel to seek out areas of transferability, transcript review, and pursue academic investigations.

The Planning Lodge

Learners work with the Pathways personnel to identify pathways and create a learning journey plan to include courses that are available for transfer and other options for program completion that is most efficient and effective for the learner.

Fulfilling Potential Lodge

Learners are supported through the admissions application process by the Pathways personnel.

Key Takeaways

The research and consultation that went into this work resulted in two innovative projects that are fully transferrable and recognized across three Indigenous Institutes. The Good rED Program, an important bridging program for adult learners to engage meaningfully with their postsecondary journey, promotes seamless transfer between Indigenous Institutes and their college and university partners. The second project, the Learning Lodges framework, will allow Indigenous students to have their prior learning and experience recognized in an achievable and respectful way. Taken together, these innovative initiatives are paving the way to make higher education more accessible and inclusive to Indigenous learners.