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By Jamie McLeod

At a time when everyone is heading off to work or school, 64 Ryerson students will be lounging in bed, grabbing their coffee and attending class in their PJs.

They will be studying for a Bachelor of Commerce degree from in front of computer screens across Canada as part of the first-ever online degree in retail management.

The program, offering working students the chance to earn their degree at home, was launched in January. Already it’s garnering praise among leading retailers across Canada, such as Hudson’s Bay Co., Sears Canada and Loblaw Cos.

“As an employer, we like the program since it’s a way to further develop some of our high-potential employees on their way to management positions within the company,” said Deanne Collinson, executive vice president of Loblaw Supermarkets.

Loblaw Cos. is even subsidizing staff members enrolled in the program by paying for books, tuition, and computers. Some businesses are actually recruiting up-and-coming employees to enroll in the program.

Using a range of online activities, discussions, group projects, and virtual tools, the BComm degree stresses customer service, people skills, strategy, and technology as its four central themes.

Right now, the program offers fewer than 50 courses, but there are plans to expand on that.

“The program is relatively new, and we expect a lot of growth over the next few years,” said Elizabeth Eavens, director of the School of Retail Management.

The first graduates are not expected for five or more years, but it could possibly be much longer. Many students are only taking one or two courses each term, which will not see them graduate for almost a decade.

“It’s something I have always wished I had done,” said Joan Matheson, a Loblaw employee starting her third course towards her degree this fall. “It’s something for myself that I’ve always wanted to do.”

For now though, Matheson and her peers are learning relevant skills that will help them today.

“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” she said, “for me, and for the company.”

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