Canadians Turning To Community Colleges

Two-year, community colleges are beginning to make serious inroads into the higher education market in Canada, according to Jon Marcus of the Hechinger Report.

Marcus reports that community colleges are being celebrated for their success in educating and accrediting Canadians. Canada is currently second in the world for proportion of 25-24 year olds with postsecondary degrees. More than half of Canadians hold a postsecondary degree and, according to Marcus, half of those graduates attended community college.

Conversely, in the United States, despite enrolling half of all undergraduate students community colleges are sometimes seen as a drag on the nation’s higher education standing. Only one in 10 Americans have completed a postsecondary degree at a community college, compared to more than a quarter of Canadians.

Marcus attributes this difference to the amount of remedial education offered in American community colleges compared to Canadian ones. Canadian community colleges are attracting a huge number of students who already hold university degrees—between 20-30% of total enrollments. Conversely, 42% of students who attend an American community college require at least one remedial course in math or English, according to the US Department of Education.

The federal agency Human Resources and Skills Development Canada predicted that up to 65 percent of new jobs in Canada will require postsecondary degrees. Canadian community college leaders have put their success and attraction down to the fact that prospective students need jobs, and colleges give graduates the best chance of entering the job market.

“The collective wisdom is, if you want to get a job, going to a college will mean nine times out of 10 you’ll be employed in your area of interest six months after graduation,” James Knight, president and CEO of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, told Marcus.

The president of Toronto’s George Brown College told Marcus that the reaction-time for colleges is much faster than that of universities, meaning they can respond directly to the needs of the labor market quickly and efficiently.

“We don’t have the same approval process,” she said. “We can have a program up and running within months.”

However, the President of the University of Toronto David Naylor told Marcus that a university curriculum provides graduates with a well-roundedness that they can’t achieve with a college degree.

“Applied education is sterile,” he said, adding that he was uninterested in turning the University of Toronto into a vocational school. “The view that graduates in arts or the humanities are somehow fiddling away for four years is regressive. It’s a classic trap in logic that people fall into when they imagine that every university degree has to have some employability prospect.”

Despite the value of personal growth that comes from a university degree, the President of Centennial College Ann Buller told Marcus that making sure graduates could get jobs should be priority number one.

“The idea of education for education’s sake, I love that. I hope it never goes away,” she said. “But in a world where taxpayers pay and students pay to go here, in the end, I want my graduates to get jobs.”

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