David Allwright of the Chiu School of Business talks about how students’ needs and goals have changed

David Allwright is dean of the Chiu School of Business at Bow Valley College.

David Allwright
David Allwright

Tell me about the Chiu School of Business at Bow Valley College. What does it specialize in and what are its most popular programs?

Allwright: With approximately 3,000 students, the Chiu School of Business (CSB) is the largest college-level business school in the province. We specialize in one- and two-year offerings across 18 programs and majors. Business Administration and Health Administration are the two largest program areas in the CSB.

Our new area of growth is university transfer. A lot of high school students would like to pursue business degrees in the city but feel shut out of that educational pathway. We have articulation agreements with every post-secondary institution in the city. This provides our students with multiple pathways to the advanced credentials they are seeking.

I understand it’s the fastest growing school at Bow Valley College and expected to continue to grow. Why?

Allwright: Providing flexibility has made CSB one of the largest providers of online business education in the province. CSB’s growth curve is the result of our focus on building flexible delivery options and pathways for our students.

BVC is one of the most diverse post-secondary institutions in the country; not only in terms of ethnic and cultural diversity, but also simple demographics. Canada’s working population is growing older and so is our student base. Our students simply can’t afford to build their education around their lives the way a traditional 18-year-old student used to. Our students are managing a lot of family, work and community commitments that they can’t put on hold for two to four years while they get an education.

And because our student base is getting older, they are much more likely to be going through a career transition that isn’t compatible with leaving the workforce for an extended period; so getting another four-year degree isn’t in the cards. But they might be willing to squeeze in a one- or two-year certificate or diploma while juggling their other obligations. Especially if they can do that with a mix of online and traditional face-to-face courses.

How do you differentiate yourselves from other business schools in the city like the University of Calgary, SAIT and Mount Royal University?

Allwright: Well, obviously, we have some stiff competition; and not just from the ones you’ve mentioned. Each institution differentiates itself in ways that appeal to its target student base. No institution can be a one-size-fits-all entity; whether you specialize in small classes, or robust graduate and doctoral offerings, each of the business schools in the city offers its own mix of programming.

We focus on flexibility (multiple delivery options and small class sizes), alternate pathways to further post-secondary options (degree transfer), and the ability to pivot your career quickly and cost-effectively.

We’ve stayed away from developing our own degree offerings because, frankly, Calgary doesn’t need another degree-granting institution. BVC is the only comprehensive community college in the region and we think that provides us with opportunities to do interesting things that other institutions overlook.

Also, our location gives us a huge advantage: we are right downtown next to the City Hall C-Train station.

How has the recent recession in Calgary changed the city?

Allwright: I’ve been through my fair share of Calgary and Alberta recessions. And this one is different. It has taken a psychological toll that I never saw in previous downturns. In the past, everyone assumed there would be another upturn, so all you needed to do was weather the storm and everything would be fine. But this time people are skeptical about another boom arriving anytime soon (nearly four years and counting). And that led to a period of despondency that we’re only now coming out of.

My feeling is that Calgarians (not just the business community) are planning for a very different future. People are looking at their options: starting their own business, changing careers or changing industries. A lot of people have told me they have no intention of going back to oil and gas (we’ll see). And others are telling their kids to think about a different career path. In many ways, this makes us more like other cities with diversified economies.

How important is it that the city diversifies its economy?

Allwright: I’ve been around long enough to remember Peter Lougheed warning us about the dangers of our huge reliance on oil and gas. In the 1970s and ’80s, the government made a few half-hearted attempts at diversifying the economy (usually by subsidizing poorly thought-out business plans).

And here we are: once again talking about diversifying the economy.

At least this time we’re placing our hopes on the entrepreneurial business community to innovate our way to a diversified economy, as opposed to massive government subsidies.

Back in the boom years, I often wondered what Calgary would look like if the oil business collapsed, and if those gleaming office buildings would stand as empty monuments to an industry facing the kinds of long-term challenges confronting the Alberta oil and gas industry.

I sure hope I’m wrong in the long term.

– Mario Toneguzzi


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