The Inside Track: Cheryl Jensen's focus on innovation at Algonquin College

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A lot has changed at Algonquin College since Cheryl Jensen arrived.

Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen at The Inside Track.

The head of the post-secondary school made her mark even before she moved into her office after becoming the first female president in Algonquin College’s history.

But it was after she officially started work that things really began to change.

Within her first two-and-half years as president, she’s advanced the college’s reputation as an innovator by making entrepreneurship a key part of her mandate and worked to ensure Indigenous students have the same educational opportunities as other Canadians.  

One of her main achievements on both of these initiatives was securing funding for the $45-million Algonquin College Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Learning Centre and the Algonquin College Institute for Indigenous Entrepreneurship.

But that’s not all that’s new.

During an interview with OBJ publisher Michael Curran on The Inside Track, Ms. Jensen discussed the changing perceptions of the colleges system in Ontario, the shifting demographics of Algonquin students as well as the technological advancements that have changed how education is delivered.

“Less than one half of our students now come (to college) right out of high school,” Ms. Jensen said. Increasingly, university graduates are enrolling in graduate certificate programs and, while most students still fall within the 18-25 years old, about a half are considered “mature” students.

These changes demographics are marked by a transition in Ontarians’ perception of our colleges.  Ms. Jensen described the early college system in Ontario as being built as “an alternative to university, for those who didn’t have the grades and maybe not the money to go to university.”

Now, through Algonquin’s 22 articulation agreements and collaborative degrees with Carleton University and a collaborative nursing degree with the University of Ottawa, students have a range of options through the college, including the option to earn their degree.

There’s been a resurgence in the demand for skilled trades workers as well as graduates with advanced technology qualifications. This means colleges are poised to become even more attractive to both students and the employers who hire them, especially since graduates from schools such as Algonquin are prepared to “hit the ground running.”

So how does Ms. Jensen plan to keep up with so much change?  With more innovation, of course.  

“We’ve changed the length of our programs and the model of our delivery so that we meet the needs of (all of our) students,” Mr. Jensen said, calling Algonquin a “digital collage.”

Changing the way educational programs are delivered, with a focus on helping students navigate informational resources instead of simply dictating information, also help to keep up with digitally savvy students.

For more on Cheryl Jensen’s leadership, advice to young Canadians and thoughts on how technology is influencing the way we deliver education, watch a recording of the live panel discussion here.

Organizations: Algonquin College, Algonquin College Institute for Indigenous Entrepreneurship, Carleton University University of Ottawa Stevenson & White The Inside Track

Geographic location: Ontario

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