The Canada Council on Learning, a federally funded research group just released a report on the challenges of assessing quality in post-secondary education in Canada. Up to Par: The Challenge of Demonstrating Quality in Canadian Post-secondary Education (there’s a mouthful, eh?) describes, among other concerns how downright confusing post-secondary education has become.
Here’s the deal: until the mid 1990s,if you went to college, you got a diploma or a certificate. If you went to university, you got a degree. And Canadian universities have been fairly standard in the quality of education they offer. So we’ve had this rather agreeable system from the standpoint of the student: What you see is what you get.
Too bad the Canadian system is going to start looking like the American one, where figuring out where to go to school is as complicated, time consuming and annoying as trying to read your cell phone bill. As colleges and universities compete for students, they get more “gimmicky” and aggressive in their recruitment tactics. Students and potential students are stuck trying to identify the “real deal” through all the marketing hype.
The CCL report points out the known problem of degree/diploma mills – fraudulent institutions that award fraudulent credentials – but I suspect that most people seeking a credential on the basis of their “life experience” know what they are doing, and what they are getting. The larger problem, in my opinion, is the growing number of institutions that are legally licensed to offer courses and provide certificates or diplomas or whatever you want to call them that, once obtained, have no pull in the labour market whatsoever.
It is good to see some recognition, through the CCL, that quality recognition is an increasing problem in Canadian post-secondary education. What remains to be seen is if and how well provincial governments respond to the call.