Nova Scotia Community College Hits a Sweet Spot for IT Education

It’s summer and, as Nat would say, time to roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of soda and pretzels and beer.

Well, maybe not so much the soda and pretzels, but certainly all the rest of it. And what better time to talk about… school!

In particular I’d like to talk about the Nova Scotia Community College and their Information Technology diploma program.

I recently met with Hal O’Connell, Acting Academic Chair in their Institute of Technology campus on Leeds Street, a gorgeously revamped building thanks to some infrastructure stimulus funding. Interestingly, the day I was there, they had parts of it closed off to film scenes for an upcoming movie (Blackbird), where the section which was out of bounds was made to look like a prison. School turned into a jail; reminded me of my childhood

Their IT program, called “Applied Arts and New Media”, is based on industry consultation done every five years in order to keep their curriculum relevant. They are now in the middle of that process in the current cycle, with the new curriculum having a common first year and a specialized second year.

Diplomas are offered in Database, Web Development, Systems Management/Networking, and Programming. The common first year is also shared with their Computer Electronics Technician program

In total, the program consists of six semesters spanning two years, with a ten-week work term in the second year. They also include “Professional Options” electives, usually of a one-week duration, on special topics (iPhones, iPads, and Blackberry Enterprise Servers, for example) put on by industry. Many of these weekly electives are also accessible to industry.

O’Connell explained that the College strives to impart skills required to enter or re-enter the workforce. Only about a fifth of students enter directly from high school. The rest are either workers seeking a career transition or recent university graduates.

He also stresses that this is no drop-in centre. Although the program is designed so that students succeed, those that do not go to class (24 hours a week) and do not do their homework (approximately another 24 hours a week) will fail. It is for motivated individuals, and there are prerequisites for entry, for example Grade 12 Academic English and Mathematics.

NSCC hits that sweet spot between private training centres and university, where the former provides highly specialized training on specific topics and the latter provides a broad-based education. By aligning themselves with companies like Microsoft, VMware, and Oracle, NSCC is able to leverage the tools such organizations provide. In addition to being granted a diploma, students also acquire the skills to apply for industry accreditations, such as Microsoft certifications and CompTIA.

In some cases, students don’t need to choose between College and University. For example, via an articulation agreement with Cape Breton University, NSCC graduates receive an equivalent to two years of study towards a four-year bachelor of technology degree program.

Although different campuses share a common curriculum, specifics of a particular course sometimes depends on the instructor. For example, “programming” may be done in a Microsoft language, in Oracle, or in Java, depending on who is teaching it. They have no problem aligning themselves with any company, and have no mandate to be “vendor agnostic”.

And they appear to be successful.  By working closely with industry, NSCC is able to produce graduates who find work in their chosen field, over 80% last year according to O’Connell. Perhaps more significant, is that over 90% of NSCC graduates remain in the province.

By all indications, enrollment in the NSCC IT program is strong, not a thing all institutions can claim when it comes to IT.  The idea is to provide hands on training that can be applied right away, and to produce graduates that are ready for the workforce.

NSCC’s Student Services department provides career counseling and other services to further ensure success. And in turn, the industry responds with presentations to students. Microsoft, for example, visits several times a year.

One thing I found interesting to learn is that more and more IT graduates are going to smaller organizations, whereas five years ago they would typically go to large companies like CGI or Keane. This  demonstrates further alignment to the needs of the province for, as we are often told, it is small business that is the backbone of our economy.

So kids, or parents with kids, have a look at this program. (I guess most parents have kids.) As I write this column, there are still seats at the Leeds Applied Arts and New Media program for this fall, and there is also capacity at other campuses around the province.

2 replies
  1. "Lower-Rung" (via email) says:

    Dear Mr d’Entremont
    It should be pointed out that the filming of “Blackbird” at the IT Campus took place in the *student* area of the school, rather than the “gorgeously revamped” sections at the front of the building, which have been populated with administrators and executives. Students get to use the library and the lobby areas in the front of the building, but then are moved to classrooms at the rear of the building, a place suitable to stand in as a prison with virtually no modifications required.

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