Quest University Canada

Quest University | Squamish, B.C. | Founded 2007

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, tucked into 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 13 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 allows professors to take students on field trips. A visual anthropology course took place in the Himalayas in India. An ancient history course allowed students to tour Turkey and Greece. 

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. 

In January, Quest was granted creditor protection after it accumulated nearly $29 million in debt. The university is being supervised by a court-appointed monitor, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, as it works to resolve its financial situation. While the school can’t guarantee how things will look in the fall, it is committed to achieving financial stability and a sustainable future. “CCAA [Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act] protection is the right thing, as it will give us room to find a stable path,” said Quest’s president, George Iwama, in a press release. “We are committed to delivering our academic program while we find a long-term solution—which we’re confident we can do.”

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—roughly 600 students—lives in condo-style residences on campus.

Quest is expensive by Canadian standards. Annual tuition, student fees, and room and board run about $52,300; however, a large number of domestic and international students receive financial aid.

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