Three unique Canadian universities

British Columbia is home to Capilano University, Quest University Canada, and University Canada West—three unusual choices for Canadian students.

A former community college, Capilano is now a teaching-focused university offering degrees, diplomas and certificates. Although private universities aren’t common in Canada, British Columbia is home to two: Quest University Canada, private and not-for-profit, and University Canada West, private and for-profit. Meanwhile, students interested in a Christian education can choose from among dozens of universities across Canada.

Capilano University

Capilano University’s faculty focuses on teaching rather than research. Many faculty continue to work in their fields and can offer students access to up-to-date, practical instruction and industry connections. Students benefit from more individualized attention from their instructors, with class sizes averaging around 25 students.

The main campus is located at the foot of the North Shore Mountains in North Vancouver, 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver. A second campus is located in Sechelt, B.C., with regional offerings in the Squamish-Whistler area. Student residences, located off the main campus about 20 minutes away by bike or public transit, provide a mix of shared and single accommodations for around 250 students. Last year, to celebrate Capilano’s 50th anniversary, both campuses were decorated with 10 colourful murals, painted by local artists.

Degree programs tend to be career-oriented in areas such as early childhood care and education, music therapy, motion picture arts, tourism, legal studies, communications and jazz, but broader-based programs, such as the bachelor of business administration and bachelor of arts in liberal studies, are also available. In addition, Capilano has a handful of post-baccalaureate diplomas and a wide range of certificate and diploma offerings, including a diploma program in costuming for stage and screen that combines motion picture and theatre costuming, preparing students to work in film and television production, as well as theatre, opera and dance, or to pursue entrepreneurial projects.

“Capilano University alumni have gone on to win Junos and Oscars and to be named members of the ‘Power 50’ in the Canadian business world,” says president Paul Dangerfield. “We prepare students to excel on a global stage.”

A bonus: at $5,109, tuition and fees for undergraduates in associate of arts programs are about 20 per cent less than at Vancouver’s two research-intensive universities.

Quest students in lecture

Students and faculty take part in a “Community Day” where students are taken out of all classes for the day to take part in a series of team-building exercises on the grounds of the school. (Photograph by Rick Collins)

Quest University Canada

Quest University Canada, tucked in the Coast Mountains in Squamish, B.C., is unique in the Canadian academic world: a private, not-for-profit university offering a single bachelor of arts and sciences degree. Now 12 years old, it’s a reinvention of the well-rounded curricula of American liberal arts colleges, but with dramatic differences. Class sizes are capped at 20 students and courses are taken one at a time in intensive 3½-week blocks.

If this format seems unusual, consider that Quest regularly turns in a strong showing on the National Survey of Student Engagement, an in-depth survey that assesses how well universities follow best practices. In addition to allowing students to concentrate deeply on each course, the block plan liberates professors to take students on field trips. A course in volcanology took students on a very long field trip: 10 days at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. An ancient history course allowed students to tour Turkey and Greece. A visual anthropology class took place in the Himalayas in India.

But it’s not just the block plan that’s different. The first two years of the degree, called the foundation program, is a core curriculum that introduces students to disciplines across the arts and sciences. The latter two years, called the concentration program, are student-designed, with each pupil working on a single question of his or her choosing, such as, “What’s the best way to educate a child?” Students build their own curriculum and take experiential learning blocks on or off campus to gain hands-on experience. The process culminates in a keystone project.

This approach helps students find their paths post-graduation. A student who asked, “How can we learn from history to positively influence our political future?” spent his experiential learning block interning at the NATO Association of Canada, focusing on extremist ideologies and terrorism. This helped him obtain a co-op position at Global Affairs Canada and to prepare for a master’s of international studies. Another student designed a highly original question about the nature of olive oil. She spent months at several different olive groves learning about harvest procedures and how tectonics and climate affect agriculture. After obtaining a master milling certificate at an American school, she received an offer from a major producer of olive oil, who also offered to publish her book about olive varieties, processing methods, recipes and cooking techniques.

“Quest is revolutionizing post-secondary education,” says president George Iwama. “It’s a privilege to be part of it, with its passionate students, its dedicated tutors and its fresh approach to learning.”

Quest’s physical setting is stunning. The campus is 45 minutes from Whistler and an hour from Vancouver, making it a recreational haven. Students can ford streams, explore forests or camp on beaches—sometimes for class credit. Skiing, snowboarding and the Pacific Ocean are never far away. The entire student body—now at capacity with roughly 700 students—lives in condo-style residences on campus.
Quest is—not surprisingly—expensive by Canadian standards. Annual tuition, student fees, and room and board run about $50,000. However, a large number of domestic and international students receive financial aid, so students of modest means needn’t shy away.

University Canada West

University Canada West is a private, for-profit university located in Vancouver’s downtown business district. With the option to study on campus or online, this 15-year-old university offers four degree programs: a bachelor of commerce, a B.A. in business communication, a new associate of arts degree and an M.B.A.—the most popular program. With programming designed to emphasize leadership, critical thinking and persuasive communication, students are challenged using real-world case studies and examples.

Canada West experienced record growth over the past year—in large part due to the introduction of the associate of arts degree—and plans to add more graduate-level degree programs. Says president Brock Dykeman, “We’re primarily a business-focused university and our new offerings will reflect that focus.”

Class sizes are small—usually 25 students or fewer—to maximize the interaction between professor and student. The university offers four terms per year, accommodating students who wish to study at a faster pace. Of approximately 1,000 students enrolled per term, about 10 per cent study online and 90 per cent are international students.

Canada West was founded by former University of Victoria president David Strong in 2004, but became part of an educational conglomerate in 2008. Since 2014, it has been owned by Global University Systems.

A bachelor’s degree runs $7,210 per year for domestic students and $17,650 for international students. The M.B.A. can be completed in less than two years, or in up to five years if pursued on a part-time basis. The full cost of the M.B.A. is $23,775 for domestic students and $35,475 for international students.