For the tiny school in the tiny community of Barry’s Bay, Ont., it is a giant leap forward.
“It is very important not just for us but for the community as a whole here that this has occurred,” said school president Keith Cassidy. “People are stopping us on the street and giving us congratulations, and giving us phone calls out of the blue with congratulations.”
The approval to grant degrees brings additional credibility to the credits earned at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, which opened its doors in 2000 in Barry’s Bay, a town of about 1,200 located 300 kilometres northeast of Toronto. Today, there are 104 students in the school.
“It will certainly make our recruiting easier,” Cassidy said. “A number of students who would have hesitated about coming here will be reassured that it is a degree which does open doors for them. Now we can officially enter into these (credit transferring) agreements with much larger institutions … so that student will be able to go on to do graduate work and an honours Bachelor degree.”
News that the Ministry of Education approved the application to elevate the school’s Catholic Studies certificate to a Bachelor’s degree for an initial period of six years came to Cassidy on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Jan. 28.
“I got up in the morning, was reading my emails and to my delight this email appeared” from the ministry of education, he said. “I think this may be a sign … in view of the fact that the philosophical theological orientation of the institution is Thomistic.”
Immediately excitement, delight and relief washed over Cassidy, who began phoning colleagues.
“We’ve been waiting so long for this that it is really an enormous sense of relief and excitement.”
Conversations at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom about garnering degree-granting status date back to the 2004-2005 academic year. By the time Cassidy took over as president in 2009 those conversations had turned into a collection of papers, application drafts and various documents.
Under his reign it took another five years to prepare the “lengthy” and “elaborate” application, officially submitted on May 1, 2014.
“A few days later the government at the time fell and there was an election,” said Cassidy. “So we started encountering delays from the start. It was quite a lengthy process.”
It also took some money — more than $15,000 — which came entirely from donors.
“We are so indebted, so grateful, to our donors who have stood with us over the years,” he said. “Many of these are people who are giving us money not out of their wealth but out of their much more limited means and have done so in a very faithful way. (They) supported us not just with their money, but supported us with their prayers.”
Before the school was granted its new status, it was put under the microscope of the Post-Secondary Education Quality Assessment Board, an arms-length body of the government. Reviewers did an academic assessment as well as an evaluation of the administrative and financial policies.
There are still a number of conditions which Cassidy said have to be met before the degree-granting status is finalized. These include establishing an off-site storage agreement for student records, demonstrating an ability to refund students should the school unexpectedly close as well as forging formal partnerships for student and credit transfers.
“These are conditions which we are confident that we can meet,” he said. “None of them are irrational or unreasonable requirements. It is consumer protection.”
A number of informal transfer agreements have existed between Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy and institutions such as Tyndale University College & Seminary, Trinity Western University and Redeemer University.