Career Colleges: Buyer Beware

The Toronto Star recently completed an investigation of an unlicensed career college,drawing further attention to a big problem that just doesn’t seem to be a priority for provincial governments: Students can pay thousands of dollars to receive diplomas or certificates with which they’ll never get jobs. This is not cool.

At least with public colleges there is some assurance that the diploma or certificate will be recognized, and have some credibility in the labour market. But a “diploma” say from an “International School of Broadcasting” or perhaps a “Canadian Aesthetics Institute” is, from most employers’ perspectives, a “what the hell?” kind of thing. The bottom line is that students have to make sure that the credential they are getting will be recognized when they go out to get a job with it.

The juicy stories — the ones that get media attention — are closures of sketchy schools, and blatantly (okay “allegedly”) fraudulent activity like that revealed in the Star investigation. “Diploma mills” get attention because they clearly issue a credential with no program of study. They are easy to pick on too.

The tougher thing to get a handle on is private career colleges that do offer actual programs. Technically, they’re offering courses and students are completing work, but the quality of a given program (and bottom line — will it get you a job) is anyone’s guess.

In recent years, some provincial governments have reformed their legislation to create higher standards for private colleges, but, as a related Star editorial points out, without enforcement, well… so what? Legislation that allows the colleges to operate is not the same as the legislation that regulates the quality of the diplomas and degrees offered by public institutions. Licensing for private career colleges just says “yeah we say you can operate your college business.” Quality is a non-issue here.

A whole lot more regulatory work needs to be done to protect potential students from crappy diploma programs. Until this happens, you know what they say: Buyer Beware.

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