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Annual Report

2020-21

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Adaptability in Action
Karen Creditor

From the
President & CEO

First off, I recognize there’s a good chance you’re reading this in the afternoon or evening. But here at OCAS, there’s such an overwhelming and invigorating feeling that a new day has dawned – that we learned from the challenges of 2020 and feel re-energized about supporting our partners in new ways throughout 2021 and beyond.

Let’s not mince words: The past year and a half have been challenging for all of us in the Ontario college ecosystem. That said, I was inspired by how our team, along with our many partners in the college ecosystem, adapted and innovated in order to overcome them. In my view, the way everyone rallied remotely to effectively collaborate and complete projects is worth celebrating.

Despite the trials of 2020, we continued innovating on our domestic application while evolving our approach to newer service offerings and areas, like Tier 1 Customer Support and Technology Services. Looking ahead, we’re excited to continue refining our core products and services while working proactively to identify and define innovative solutions for the challenges facing our partners.

It’s a new day. We’re delighted to spend it with you.

 

Karen Creditor

President & Chief Executive Officer, OCAS
Karen Creditor

From the President & CEO

First off, I recognize there’s a good chance you’re reading this in the afternoon or evening. But here at OCAS, there’s such an overwhelming and invigorating feeling that a new day has dawned – that we learned from the challenges of 2020 and feel re-energized about supporting our partners in new ways throughout 2021 and beyond.

Let’s not mince words: The past year and a half have been challenging for all of us in the Ontario college ecosystem. That said, I was inspired by how our team, along with our many partners in the college ecosystem, adapted and innovated in order to overcome them. In my view, the way everyone rallied remotely to effectively collaborate and complete projects is worth celebrating.

Despite the trials of 2020, we continued innovating on our domestic application while evolving our approach to newer service offerings and areas, like Tier 1 Customer Support and Technology Services. Looking ahead, we’re excited to continue refining our core products and services while working proactively to identify and define innovative solutions for the challenges facing our partners.

It’s a new day. We’re delighted to spend it with you.

 

Karen Creditor

President & Chief Executive Officer, OCAS
George Burton

From the Board Chair

The OCAS Board of Directors is proud to present the 2020-21 OCAS Annual Report. Congratulations to everyone who worked to put it together during such challenging times.

OCAS has been steadfast in its support as colleges moved through the unfamiliar territory of a pandemic. The commitment to the application services, data, and research have been, and will continue to be, critical to our success as the first step to higher education for students across Canada and around the world.

Colleges are preparing for another demanding academic year, and I am confident OCAS will be there to help us face the challenges as well as pursue new opportunities.

Thank you for all of the work done this year to help keep us successful and for the support you will provide to make sure the coming year is a success too.

 

George Burton

Chair, OCAS Board of Directors

From the Board Chair

The OCAS Board of Directors is proud to present the 2020-21 Annual Report. Congratulations to everyone who worked to put it together during such challenging times.

OCAS has been steadfast in its support as colleges moved through the unfamiliar territory of a pandemic. The commitment to the application services, data, and research have been, and will continue to be, critical to our success as the first step to higher education for students across Canada and around the world.

Colleges are preparing for another demanding academic year, and I am confident OCAS will be there to help us face the challenges as well as pursue new opportunities.

Thank you for all of the work done this year to help keep us successful and for the support you will provide to make sure the coming year is a success too.

 

George Burton

Chair, OCAS Board of Directors
George Burton
OCAS Logo

From OCAS

In last year’s annual report, we talked about how 2019-20 was the year OCAS “settled in.” It was a year where we grew, reorganized, and strengthened our core services – including domestic and international applications – as well as several new ones, like managed cloud hosting and website services.

We even went so far as to say that, through our growth and new organizational structure, we’d positioned ourselves to effectively ‘weather storms’.

That was certainly prescient.

When last year’s report launched, the global pandemic was still relatively new – and we all hoped it would be over within a few weeks. Thankfully, OCAS’ strategic growth in the period leading up to last year meant our organization was able to effectively adapt to the unprecedented storm that was 2020. Our forward-thinking changes – from hiring in growth areas to ensuring all employees have the tools they need to work in a remote setting – enabled us to continue supporting the ongoing needs of our partners in the college ecosystem.

It’s a natural evolution, then, that this year’s report focuses on adaptability. Much like the abstract shapes and bamboo you’ll see throughout this report – the latter known for its resiliency and ability to thrive in even the most rugged conditions – OCAS has remained strong and flexible to the rapidly changing environment of 2020.

Thanks for taking the time to read our 2020-21 Annual Report. We enjoy celebrating our achievements with you, and look forward to collaborating in the future.

How We’re Innovating

While we feel good about our ability to adapt and meet the many challenges presented last year, we also understand that the storm continues to have an impact on us and our partners. We’ve responded by rapidly expanding the OCAS Contact Centre – including our Tier 1 Customer Support and Outbound Calling services, both outlined in this section – and Data & Insight Services, which helps colleges leverage data to make strategic decisions on where to invest their energy.

The following section focuses on some of the people, projects, and services that helped us meet our goals in 2020. It includes profiles of entire service areas and glimpses at the work of newly hired individuals, all illustrating the efforts that went into supporting our partners over the past year.

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Domestic Apply

Refreshed and Reinvigorated

Among our most noteworthy accomplishments in 2020 was the launch of Domestic Apply, a revamped domestic application experience. Going live in the summer, Domestic Apply was designed to make the application process easier and more engaging for prospective students.

Hover (or tap) below to see how it does that:

Unified Experience

Unified Experience

Domestic Apply features a seamlessly integrated and consistent experience across multiple platforms.

Visual Appeal

Visual Appeal

The Domestic Apply website looks better than ever thanks to the addition of vibrant colours and imagery intended to bring the application experience to life.

Improved Navigation

Improved Navigation

Designed with flexibility in mind, a new navigation structure gives applicants the freedom to move around freely instead of following a fixed path.

More Accessible, User-Friendly

More Accessible, User-Friendly

Together, the improved user experience and accessibility (including AODA compliance) elements of Domestic Apply will help applicants find what they’re looking for.

In addition to improved visuals, navigation, and accessibility, Domestic Apply now benefits from​:

Built in-house

Domestic Apply was built entirely by the OCAS team, meaning it will be easier to maintain and improve over time.

College insights

Domestic Apply was built from the ground-up with the support of key stakeholders, thanks to close consultation between college partners and members of the OCAS Customer Success Office (CSO) through the Apply Working Group.

We’re not done with Domestic Apply now that it’s launched. In the coming year, we’ll be exploring several user-friendly enhancements, including:

  • Giving applicants the option to upload (instead of physically mail) photocopies of supporting documents like driver’s licenses
  • Moving key functionality from the Partner Portal to the newer Apply Admin, ensuring a more consistent experience and giving users – including college partners – access to new features, like drag and drop file uploads
  • Developing Domestic on Demand, a new and optional events-based domestic data exchange system that enables faster decision-making by colleges, improving the experience for college staff and applicants alike

If there’s a theme here, it’s that we’ll be spending the coming year working on refinements to Domestic Apply that provide small but significant enhancements to the domestic application experience.

Did You Know?

OCAS’ College-Branded Application (CBA) is an application 'doorway' that keeps a college’s unique branding. It's a user-friendly approach that makes applying seamless as applicants move from a program page on a college website through the complete application experience. No wonder 23 colleges now use the CBA!

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When Mark Wilhelm (aka, Master of Pixels) isn’t busy designing the Domestic Apply, he likes to keep everyone’s computers looking fresh by regularly designing new desktop backgrounds for the OCAS team.

OCAS’ Contact Centre received more than 30,000 emails in 2020. With phone and chat added to the mix, our Contact Centre had more than 237,000 interactions with Ontario prospective and existing college students last year!

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Learner Experience Services

One of OCAS’ newest service areas is Learner Experience Services, which can help learners more effectively launch their college journey. Our approach starts with helping learners find the college program that best suits their aspirations, before guiding them through the application process and beyond.

Learner Experience Services includes Tier 1 Customer Support, Outbound Calling, and Learner Navigation. Each of these areas evolved in 2020 as we adapted our approach in an effort to help our college partners weather the storm presented by the global pandemic.

Here’s how we did that:

Tier 1 Customer Support

OCAS’ Tier 1 Customer Support service helps colleges during particularly busy periods – such as the beginning of a term, when students call with questions on a wide variety of topics, from financial aid issues to scheduling matters.

It’s little surprise, then, that the list of Ontario colleges on Tier 1 grew in 2020, when OCAS handled more than 100,000 calls for our college partners. Today, there are more than half a dozen colleges using Tier 1, with several others exploring onboarding.

How does it work?

It begins with a student's call to a college's contact centre number – when an OCAS agent answers the phone on behalf of the college. As the call proceeds, the OCAS agent logs relevant details into a customer management tool designed to help the college track recurring issues.

If the caller has a concern that requires deeper, more specific knowledge only the college can provide, then the OCAS agent 'elevates' the call by flagging it for follow-up by the college. If not, then the OCAS agent resolves the matter, saving the college time while ensuring caller satisfaction.

OCAS also provides colleges with weekly and monthly reports showing call, issue, and resolution trends. For those colleges using Tier 1 throughout the year, and not just at busy periods, OCAS also provides a dedicated Contact Centre supervisor and team.

So far, the Tier 1 Customer Support service has been incredibly helpful, with OCAS resolving about four in five calls received – meaning few issues ever require elevation to college staff. With OCAS’ resolution rates this high, colleges can focus on responding to more complex matters while leaving other conversations – like those about admissions, financial aid, international applications, and continuing education – to our experienced Contact Centre team.
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Outbound Calling

While our Tier 1 service is focused on supporting colleges through inbound calling, in 2020 we also executed on several outbound calling campaigns designed to gently nudge a prospective student to take the next step in their application process, from confirming an offer to paying tuition.

In total, we made nearly 10,000 outbound calls across 26 campaigns on behalf of our college partners in 2020. That’s an average of more than 800 calls every month!

How does it work?

Here are some examples of the outbound campaigns we led in 2020:

Congrats

Calls to applicants who’d been accepted to their college of choice to provide a hearty congratulations, answer any of their questions, and pass along an invitation to attend an open house event

Accepted but not confirmed

Calls to students who’d accepted their offer of admission but hadn’t yet confirmed plans to attend college; OCAS agents provide instructions on how applicants can take the next steps to secure their enrolment

Credit transfer

Proactively calling applicants with previous post-secondary education experience to see if they're eligible for credit for courses already completed

Support resources

Directing students to support resources, like academic planning tools, that show vital information about programs, from course requirements to credit transfer opportunities

As with Tier 1, Outbound Calling is about helping our college partners build deep, meaningful connections with applicants and students.

Learner Navigation

Our newest addition to Learner Experience Services is Learner Navigation, which is all about guiding learners from imagining their future and understanding their options through college application, offer confirmation, and enrolment.

Supporting this effort is Kelvin Lee, a veteran recruiter who spent decades in the college system before joining OCAS last year. With Kelvin on board, OCAS is better positioned to help learners who call us with questions about their college journeys and getting ready to start their careers.

Over the past year, Kelvin has been collaborating with his contacts throughout the college ecosystem to support OCAS’ developing Learner Experience Services efforts.

Here’s just a taste of what Kelvin has been up to:

•  Acting as OCAS’ first point of contact for college recruiters by offering one-on-one consultations and answering questions about how OCAS can help colleges with their recruitment campaigns

•  Attending (virtual) college recruitment events as an advocate for the entire college ecosystem – rather than any one college – and collaborating with colleges to more effectively engage potential applicants

•  Helping colleges adapt their digital outreach – and especially websites – to meet the needs of today’s tech-savvy prospective students

•  Exploring the future of college career planning resources by researching what’s working for post-secondary institutions in the US and across the pond in the UK and Europe

•  Managing the @ontariocolleges Twitter account by promoting college recruitment events

Looking ahead, we’ll continue using Learner Experience Services to find new and innovative ways to support the colleges in helping Ontario’s learners chart their futures.

Did You Know?

OCAS processed more than 300,000 applications to Ontario colleges during the fiscal 2020-21 fiscal year. This includes almost 100,000 international applications through our International Application Service (IAS).

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Meet Lizzie, trusted office buddy of Kelvin Lee, OCAS’ Learner Advisement Lead.

Learner Navigation

Our newest addition to Learner Experience Services is Learner Navigation, which is all about guiding learners from imagining their future and understanding their options through college application, offer confirmation, and enrolment.

Supporting this effort is Kelvin Lee, a veteran recruiter who spent decades in the college system before joining OCAS last year. With Kelvin on board, OCAS is better positioned to help learners who call us with questions about their college journeys and getting ready to start their careers.

Kelvin Lee
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Meet Lizzie, trusted office buddy of Kelvin Lee, OCAS’ Learner Advisement Lead.

Over the past year, Kelvin has been collaborating with his contacts throughout the college ecosystem to support OCAS’ developing Learner Experience Services efforts.

Here’s just a taste of what Kelvin has been up to:

•  Acting as OCAS’ first point of contact for college recruiters by offering one-on-one consultations and answering questions about how OCAS can help colleges with their recruitment campaigns

•  Attending (virtual) college recruitment events as an advocate for the entire college ecosystem – rather than any one college – and collaborating with colleges to more effectively engage potential applicants

•  Helping colleges adapt their digital outreach – and especially websites – to meet the needs of today’s tech-savvy prospective students

•  Exploring the future of college career planning resources by researching what’s working for post-secondary institutions in the US and across the pond in the UK and Europe

•  Managing the @ontariocolleges Twitter account by promoting college recruitment events

Looking ahead, we’ll continue using Learner Experience Services to find new and innovative ways to support the colleges in helping Ontario’s learners chart their futures.

Did You Know?

OCAS processed more than 300,000 applications to Ontario colleges during the fiscal 2020-21 fiscal year. This includes almost 100,000 international applications through our International Application Service (IAS).

Website Services

Falling within OCAS Technology Services, the Website Services offering is designed to help college partners address their website needs through a collaborative and highly customizable approach to web development, hosting, and maintenance.

Our efforts in this area run the gamut from building entirely new ‘core’ sites for colleges – as we did for St. Lawrence College in 2020 – to creating microsites for unique areas – as we did for Conestoga College in early 2021.

How does it work?

Colleges interested in OCAS Website Services meet with members of our project management, product, and marketing and communications teams to discuss what they need from a new or updated website experience.

Once we’ve established a core project team – consisting of college stakeholders and OCAS team members – we move into ‘discovery’ to outline clear requirements for a new site. From there, OCAS team members begin to craft the new site, from content strategy through design, development, copywriting, all the way to launch. The project team meets regularly to track progress and ensure college needs are being met.

We’re very excited about our Website Services offering because it gives us an opportunity to creatively collaborate with our partners to enhance their digital engagement with applicants, students, and stakeholders in a cost-effective way.

St Lawrence College
​Following OCAS’ successful development of SLC in Five – an interactive microsite for the St. Lawrence College (SLC) strategic plan – and a dedicated website for SLC’s Centre for Behavioural Studies, St. Lawrence looked to OCAS again, this time to refresh their core website.

Throughout 2020, OCAS worked closely with the SLC team on research and planning, design, content strategy, and development.

Areas of focus included:

•  Overhauled navigation based on drop-down menus, making it easier to find relevant information on both desktop and mobile​

•  Information that’s concise, clear, and easily digestible thanks to the use of anchor images, more videos, pictures, and testimonials

•  Salesforce integration, enabling the SLC team to effectively engage prospective and existing students, as well as alumni, with distinct messaging

•  Content consolidation, or relaying information on fewer webpages – making it easier for users to navigate the site and for SLC team members to maintain it

•  Simplified page structure that makes it easier for users to access the information relevant to them

•  Far more visuals than ever before, with a focus on SLC’s campus communities of Kingston, Brockville, and Cornwall

•  Design and development features built for mobile from the ground up

•  New content management system, putting more control in the hands of SLC's marketing and communications team members.

Thanks to close collaboration among members of the project team – including representatives of OCAS and SLC – the new St. Lawrence website launched on schedule in December 2020.

You can view some of our before and after screenshots here, and if you haven’t already, check out the completely new St. Lawrence College website.

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Conestoga College

Applied Research

In the fall of 2020, OCAS began collaborating with Conestoga’s Applied Research team on an all-new microsite showcasing their world-renowned high-tech work. The challenge: give the new Applied Research site its own personality while continuing to show that it’s part of the wider Conestoga network.

Following several discovery sessions where members of the core project team established requirements, OCAS set to work crafting a vision for the new site. The emerging work – which remains in progress – has the potential to help Conestoga Applied Research reach more students and community partners than ever before.

Areas of focus included:

•  New, more captivating design for AR (and its associated research centres) featuring design themes representing exploration and discovery

•  New content elements – like social media links, video, image galleries, and newsletters – to enhance engagement with prospective students and industry partners

•  New content management system (CMS) that makes adding and updating copy and visuals easier than ever before

•  AODA compliance, ensuring the new AR website meets current accessibility standards

The new Conestoga College Applied Research website is projected to launch in summer 2021.

Domestic Insights

At OCAS, it’s our goal to help our partners in the college ecosystem use the data collected through the domestic application to make effective decisions about the future development of recruitment, applications, programs, and more.

Domestic Insights helps us meet this goal by making it easier for our partners to access the data that matters. It’s about leveraging OCAS’ data capabilities through the implementation of Power BI, an interactive and highly visual business analytics service.

Compared to the legacy Cognos reporting – still employed by many institutional researchers at the colleges – Power BI is more user friendly, featuring intuitive filters and a highly visual interface.

How does it work?

Thanks to Domestic Insights, college ecosystem stakeholders who may not work with data on a regular basis can view useful information showing important trends in some of the following areas:

  Applicant geographic data (i.e., where applicants are coming from) displayed using visual and interactive maps

  Key performance indicators, such as graduate satisfaction rate and related employment rate (based on survey data)

  Program retention rates (i.e., how many students stayed in their original program) and transfer details (i.e., where did they go)

  Applicant and student program choices

  Applicant and student demographics

To make it easier for our partners to access the data reporting that matters to them, OCAS is piloting an automated delivery system that provides data updates via email when new reports are available, complete with directions on how to most effectively interact with and view the data.

Domestic Insights is just one of many OCAS data projects that can help us learn what motivates people to take a particular program, attend their college of choice, remain in a program through graduation, and pursue a type of career.

Over time, the results will help OCAS support its partners in marketing college programs, positioning students for success through to graduation, and even building more connected relationships with alumni.

Did You Know?

We recently launched the OCAS Research Series, a new publication that explores the discoveries of our very own Data Insights and Applied Research teams. The OCAS Research Series provides insights on application and enrolment trends by analyzing data associated with hundreds of thousands of annual applications.