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Dissertation discusses the university-college divide

Glenn Hanna sits in front of the Plant Wall

Glenn Hanna, Assistant Program Head of Justice Studies, recently completed his PhD at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University. His dissertation research focused on the divide between colleges and universities in Ontario, and he investigated how collaborations between them can be successful. The bulk of his research focuses on the University of Guelph-Humber and what factors have led to its 14 years of success.  

Why did you decide to enroll in a PhD program?

A few years after finishing my master’s I found myself missing the challenge of writing and researching, and the experience of being a student. I knew doing a PhD while working full-time would bring constraints, but it was something I knew I wanted to do. Thankfully, I found a program that takes a very modern approach to research and is interested in different viewpoints.

What was the major question you wanted to answer with your research?

There’s traditionally been a divide in Ontario’s higher education between the college and university systems, though they’re both mainly going after a similar pool of students. I wanted to find out why the University of Guelph-Humber, which bridges the divide between the two, still exists 14 years into its operation. What is it about this partnership that’s resulted in its success? In my policing career, I was part of many joint services operations, and there’s always strain when people from different groups try to work together. I wanted to know what’s made UofGH different. My dissertation, Bridging the Educational Binary Divide: A case study in the sustainability of inter-institutional relationships, looks to answer that question.

How did you go about finding those answers?

I conducted 33 separate semi-structured interviews with people at all the work sites: the University of Guelph, Humber College and at the University of Guelph-Humber and in a number of different roles. Then, I performed qualitative transcription analysis and a literature review. That included archival work as well, so I searched through founding documents and old transcripts from the planning meetings.

What were your findings? What are the secrets to success?

Since it’s opened, UofGH has had strong enrollment growth, high demand for programs and our students have had a lot of success in the job market and in graduate studies. In my research I found there were five elements that have led to that success and made this a sustainable partnership.

1) Available Resources: Because the government supplied adequate resources, there was no need to struggle over who would pay for what. That made it much more advantageous for the partners to work together.
2) Common Goals: Both partners were on the same page about wanting to see student success along with enhancements to their own reputations.
3) Effective Business Model: UofGH has made a point of sharing resources with our partner institutions. Things like athletics, disability and accommodation services, and IT services are much more economical when shared rather than built from the ground up.
4) Leadership Commitment: From the beginning, they decided to make this a big partnership. When partnerships start with small commitments, it’s easy for one side to back out as soon as things get difficult. By going all-in, the partner institutions made sure they were in it for the long haul.
5) Positive Interpersonal Relationships: No matter what questions I asked, the answers always came back to stories of how people got along and worked together. “It was great to work with her,” or “I had a great experience collaborating with him” were common responses. That kind of cooperation is driven by the expectations of leadership, encouraging people towards a common goal.

What are the major takeaways from your research?

This was an intrinsic case study, so it’s meant to give a deep explanation of why UofGH has succeeded as opposed to making general conclusions. That being said, the big takeaway here is that UofGH sets an example that this kind of partnership can be done. Other institutions have pathway programs or 2+2 plans, but this shows that you can satisfy the needs of a college and university in one integrated curriculum. It’s highly unusual in the field, but it can be done.

In my dissertation, I quote the education scholar Michael Skolnik who says that UofGH is, as “impressive an example of cooperation between postsecondary sectors as exists anywhere in the world.” 

Learn more about research at UofGH