Tracy Cunningham, associate registrar at King’s University College at Western University. Photo by Matt Quin

Catholic schools stress faith in recruitment

  • February 3, 2013

Each year thousands of high school students seek the next step in their educational journey — and there are plenty of options.

In the competitive world of attracting young minds to Canada’s post-secondary institutions, Catholic universities are not shy in stressing the Catholic connection to prospective students.

To attract students to Waterloo, Ont.’s St. Jerome’s University, it’s important to be viewed as part of the continuum of Catholic-based education, said Jim Frank.

“We are targeting the Catholic high schools — certainly in Kitchener-Waterloo and in the Hamilton diocese,” said Frank, vice-president and academic dean at St. Jerome’s at the University of Waterloo. “So if you chose a Catholic high school, I would hope you would think of choosing a Catholic university.”

According to preliminary data released by the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC), 92,554 current secondary school students have applied to universities in Ontario as of the Jan. 16 deadline, totalling 410,963 applications. But those numbers will grow as applications will be ongoing until classes commence in the fall — depending on the availability at the university and program deadlines, said Jennifer Paradise-McCurdy, OUAC manager of undergraduate programs.

Tracy Cunningham, associate registrar at King’s University College at Western University in London, Ont., says its programs are what set King’s apart from secular counterparts.

“As a Catholic institution, we’re able to provide specific programs that really focus on the needs of community and social justice,” said Cunningham.

One example is King’s degree program in social justice and peace studies.

“It looks at the idea of systemic inequity and it tries to find ways to eradicate that and overcome some of those issues,” such as child poverty, militarism, religious persecution and environmental degradation.

Over the last five years, between 40 and 42 per cent of their firstyear undergraduates have come from Catholic schools across the province, said Cunningham.

The university has been working to partner with every Catholic board in Ontario to help promote Catholic education as a distinct option from elementary to the completion of a Bachelor of Arts degree. This strategy is paying off as the numbers from Catholic schools are increasing, she said.

King’s also focuses on ensuring students of all faiths and backgrounds feel secure asking questions from a religious lens, she adds.

“Spirituality is such a big part of so many people’s lives… Many of our students come from a range of religious backgrounds and are able to talk about their own religious faiths and traditions in a way that they might not feel as comfortable at a secular institution.”

Ryan Sullivan, director of recruitment at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., says that the dual nature of the university offers students the best of both worlds.

While being publicly funded, the university has its roots and traditions in the Catholic Church, so students have access to an active chaplain on campus along with Masses, he said.

When recruiting in Latin America in particular, Sullivan sees the impact of the institution’s Catholicity.

“Parents especially are more comfortable sending a student abroad to a university that has a Catholic connection,” said Sullivan.

He says the university attracts a variety of students at different points on their faith journey. “We have students who may not be active when they arrive but for whatever reason… they become active while they’re here.”

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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