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Student Resources

University Access for Adult Learners at Ryerson, York and UofT


Adult students are starting to make their numbers known and Toronto’s universities are responding. Part-time, full-time, certificate, degree, in class or online, adults have more choice than ever before to find a university program that suits their life choices.

Traditionally, admission to universities was based solely on the successful completion of a secondary school diploma; ‘mature’ or ‘special status’ students formed a relatively small cohort who gained access through standard admission procedures. Not any more! Today, non-direct-entry students are welcomed, even solicited, to sign up for university courses.

Technology, stiff competition amongst post-secondary institutions to provide relevant education, and a rapidly-changing economic marketplace, mean that universities are building flexibility into their programs at an unprecedented pace. Removing barriers to access and equity in higher education are now crucial to the economic viability of universities. It’s a practical response to today’s demands for higher education but it’s also one that empowers adults with the ability to choose how they want to learn.


The Chang School of Continuing Education takes the practical needs of adult learners seriously. What sets The Chang School apart from Ryerson’s regular stream is its open admissions policy. That means that you can register for a single course or more without needing prior acceptance into a particular degree or certificate program.

Like many of the students who are enrolled at The Chang School, Dean Gervan Fearon’s own pathway through post-secondary education has included time out for work. He understands the need to integrate work and school. In our conversation, he stressed that continuing education at Ryerson is about encouraging adults to take that first step into a world of possibilities. Even without previous post-secondary experience, adult learners can enroll in a continuing education course and gain a sense of achievement.

Perhaps Toronto’s most inspiring program for adults is The Chang School’s Spanning the Gaps. Designed by Rona Abramovitch, its inclusive mandate radically alters staid notions of who gets to go to university – and when.

Bridges to Ryerson, one of the most successful components of Spanning the Gaps, is designed for adults who have not completed high school, or have been out of school for a few years, or simply not had the time or the resources to consider anything other than paying the bills. (Didn’t John Lennon say that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans?”) Mentors are there to help students make intelligent choices, to assist them with their selection of courses, and to help them bring the long-range view into focus even if that means suggesting that another college or university program might be better suited to a student’s immediate needs.

If academic upgrading is what you need before being accepted into a degree or certificate program, advisers will help you enroll in one of their Academic Bridging Courses, or ABC’s.

New this fall, is a Certificate in Social Sciences and Humanities Foundations. A collaborative effort between the Faculty of Arts and The Chang School, the program is aimed at the adult market and will allow participants to transfer all 6 credits to a future degree program. Learn how great ideas grow!

For adults who are less able to attend in-class lectures, Online and Distance Education provide an ideal way to combine further studies with the demands of everyday life. Signing up for an online course allows you to pursue your educational goals on your own time.

Understandably, Dean Fearon is proud of The Chang School’s contribution to online and distance learning. With more than 1475 courses, seminars, and workshops offered online, including more than 83 certificate courses (15 of which are entirely distance ed.), they are the second largest provider of university-based online education.

Even though online learning is hugely popular, Fearon recognizes that technology-enhanced learning can often be an isolating experience. Ideally, what The Chang School strives to achieve is a learning environment that combines the latest digital resources with the vital (often overlooked) component of human social interaction.

Today’s adult learner can be any age from 20 years old on up. Aware that there is a contingent of older adults who are searching to broaden their personal interest horizons, The Chang School’s Programs for 50+ in partnership with The Life Institute, offers an intriguing spectrum of courses at a reasonable cost. And guess what? You can still register for some of The Life Institute’s summer courses. Newfoundland 101 (May 28-June 25; $30.00) will give you a new appreciation of “The Rock;” Introduction to Anthropology (June 6-27; $35.00) illuminates the work of four outstanding anthropologists, while Spring and Summer Walks (May 1–September 14; $20.00) is precisely what it bills itself as: a popular series of nature and city walks in spring and summer!

Creative, intellectual engagement characterizes programming for the 50+ age group at The Chang School. At The Silver Screens Arts Festival (May 31st -June 3rd ), for example, speakers such as CBC’s Michael Enright, Prisoner of Teheran author Marina Nemat, documentary film screenings, and theatre and jazz performances light up this four-day festival geared to adult learners.

Ryerson info: 416 979.5000

Registration for The Chang School: Online up to 24 hours before classes begin

In person 24 hours before 2nd class begins (space permitting) 416 979.5035

Spanning the Gaps: 416 979.5000 x 2291

Programs for 50+ 416 979.5103

Silver Screens Arts Festival: 416 979.5103


If you have an undergraduate degree but are looking for a certificate program or professional development, York University’s Division of Continuing Education (now part of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies) likely has a course that suits your needs.

As Art Noordeh, Director of the Division of Continuing Education explained, York’s Certificate Programs are specifically designed to meet the latest marketplace needs. Although most require an undergraduate degree in order to enroll, some will accept adults with educational and work experience that meet equivalency standards. Their certificate in Dispute Resolution, for instance, requires an undergraduate degree or two years of paid or unpaid work that involves mediation skills. Like all certificate courses, this one recognizes that adults aren’t always able to commit to a semester-long course. Enroll in the 7-8 week course for Fall 2012 or register for its full-time equivalent this summer. It’s your choice!

Beginning in November 2012, a certificate in Refugee and Forced Migration Issues (in collaboration with York’s Centre for Refugee Studies) goes online. A degree, or two years of post-secondary schooling, plus one year of paid/unpaid employment with refugees or displaced persons, gets you in the door.

I was intrigued when Program and Logistics Manager, Marina DeBona, told me about French for Public Administration, a professional development course that takes place over 12 evening sessions this summer (July 5th–August 16th). Anyone who needs French at work but can never find the time to practice their oral skills (bonjour, tout le monde!) will appreciate the boost to one’s level of French proficiency that a few hours a week provides.

Not everyone who has been out of school for a while is ready to take a university-level course without preparation. York has a number of excellent bridging programs that will help you get back into the mindset. Their Transitional Year Program, a pan-university program for adult students, offers a supportive hand with its small, non-threatening, university-level courses and workshops that cover the range of issues that many students face when they find themselves in a wholly new environment. It’s a full-time, two-term program designed for adults who are at least 19 years of age and have either not completed or been out of high school for a minimum of two years.

Once you have graduated from the TYP program, you are good to go on to a degree. Applications were due May 1st but apply anyway – I was told that late applications may be considered.

If you are planning on going back to university but need some brushing up on your academic skills, Pre-University Courses in Social Sciences and The Humanities are offered through York’s Division of Continuing Ed. You need to be at least 20 years old when you apply and have received a ‘B’ in your course in order to enter a degree program the following year as a ‘mature student.’ One evening a week this summer (Social Sciences: May 29th-August 21st), plus $649.00, will reduce the anxiety that might be holding you back. Both courses will be offered during 2012-2013 Fall and Winter terms.

York’s Bridging Program for Women addresses writing and speaking skills along with issues that are particularly relevant for women. Students must be 21 years old and have been out of school for at least two years. Like the pre-university courses, a ‘B’ standing in the program gives you the key to a degree program either with the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies or Glendon College.

Bridging for Internationally-Educated Professionals is a relatively recent program that responds to the numbers of skilled immigrants who have immigrated to Canada with international post-secondary education (a Bachelor’s degree), professional credentials, and work experience but who may be lacking in Canadian experience. Courses, such as Experiential Education, are tailored to the needs of the individual and provide a blend of theory and coursework with practical, hands-on, Canadian experience with local profit and not-for-profit organizations.

York University general information:

Division of Continuing Education:, 416 736.5616

Transitional Year Program 416 736.5782

Bridging Program for Women 416 736.2100 x77818

Bridging Program for IEP’s 416 736.5620

Atkinson Centre for Mature and Part-time Students (ACMAPS) 416 736.5770


Although many of the courses at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies are expensive, there are always ways and means to lower the costs. Their non-credit English Language Program, for example, designed for general, professional, or academic purposes, is offered on a part-time basis for ten weeks this summer ($590.00).

There isn’t much that’s FREE any more but the English Language Program’s Personal Consultation is! You don’t have to be enrolled in the program to book an appointment with a counsellor for advice on your language, career, and academic goals. Could be the beginning of something beautiful!

Full-time enrolment in Woodsworth College’s TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Certificate will definitely set you back a few bucks ($5,400.00+) but it has earned an excellent reputation and includes lecture hours, practice teaching and observation. You can spread out the cost by taking the course part-time as long as you have finished it within six years of admission. Sound less onerous?

The Millie Rotman Shime Academic Bridging Program at Woodsworth College is open to adults (19 years +) who need a year to upgrade academic skills before proceeding to a degree. Upon completion of the course, students can transfer one credit towards a future degree in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Academic Bridging students meet once a week for 8 months ($1500.00 +). Several info sessions are coming up: May 14th and 29th, June 4th and19th, and July 4th (confirm reservation). Deadline for Fall admission is July 20th.

Like Ryerson and York, U of T has its own excellent Transitional Year Program (TYP) to offer support to anyone who has the desire to go to university but because of social and/or economic reasons has not had the opportunity to do so. This is a program that works to remove barriers to higher education. Students are provided with a supportive learning environment, an adviser, space to work, and counselling on a range of issues including funding options. The one prerequisite is that you have to be at least 19 years old in the year that you are admitted. Seniors welcomed: there is no upper age limit!

School of Continuing Studies:

English Language Program: 416 978.5104

English Language Personal Consultation:


Academic Bridging: 416 978.7487

TESOL: 416 978.8713

TYP: 416 978.6832

Remember that all three universities:

  • allow you to painlessly transfer college credits towards a university degree (
  • provide bursaries, scholarships, and flexible payment schedules upon demonstration of need.
  • permit course auditing (attend without evaluation). U of T charges $150.00 for a half-course and up to $400.00 for a full course; York charges a nominal fee ($10.00/credit), and Ryerson’s sole stipulation is that auditing be restricted to daytime lecture courses.

Looking for a reason to celebrate turning 60?

York and Ryerson cover the costs of an undergraduate degree for anyone 60 years of age or older!

Contact a university adviser. Ask lots of questions. It’s a practical response to today’s demands for higher education but it’s also one that empowers adults with the ability to choose how they want to learn.

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