|NEW ZEALAND'S EDUCATION
UCOL Wairarapa is celebrating a boom in the number of degree students - more than half the roll - who now call the Masterton campus home.
Campus manager Angela Hewitt said about 140 students were expected this year at UCOL Wairarapa working toward Bachelor's degrees in nursing, teaching (early childhood education), and social work.
The nursing programme had been running "very successfully" for more than a decade, she said, the early childhood education class was in its fourth year, and the social work programme launched this year.
About 85 per cent of graduates had moved into employment or other studies last year across the three campuses in Palmerston North, Wanganui and Masterton, with UCOL Wairarapa nursing graduates again at the front of the pack.
"It's pretty good given the national trend is a bit down, and we've had outcomes here that were even better, actually," she said. "It became apparent there was a need in our community for higher-level tertiary studies. Some people just can't leave the region to study degrees, and the community wanted to employ graduates with degrees."
The nursing programme had been a longstanding success and the burgeoning move toward other degree classes was boosted when UCOL partnered with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, which had generated the early childhood education and social work classes.
"Enrolments for degree programmes have been steadily increasing, especially since we started our partnership with the Open Polytechnic. It's a partnership that means the students are learning at a distance but they can come here to be supported in their studies," Ms Hewitt said.
The campus infrastructure, resources and personnel helped to support distance learning, she said, "because it can be a challenge, especially around motivation when you're doing it on your own without a peer group".
"They can be on campus all week if they want. They can use the library, the hub space to study, the computers, the laptops, they can use all our services - the counsellor, health nurse, learning and disability support - and we provide a tutor once a week, so they can come in with their peer group for learning sessions," Ms Hewitt said.
"What we've noticed after the first three years (of the early childhood education degree) were successful outcomes and students who have not only passed, but they've passed with a higher grade. That's been the biggest surprise."
The wider community also played a pivotal role in the success of the degree programmes, through the provision of worksite placement for each student making up the diverse "demographic" of people taking on higher studies in the town.
"If we can produce our own graduates for our own region, what could be better? These people love the region, they want to live here and work here, so why not train them here."
Degree studies in Masterton might next include a Bachelor of applied management, which as a business programme would fit the over-arching strategy of "choosing degrees that matched the employment needs of our region".
More than 70 graduates are expected at a graduation ceremony, and traditional walk along Queen St back to the campus, at the Masterton Town Hall on March 17. At least half the graduates from the inaugural early childhood education programme were to attend the ceremony, Ms Hewitt said, as would Open Polytechnic of New Zealand chief executive Caroline Seeling, and council chairman Murray Bain.