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Colleges at the forefront of higher education (Includes interview)

This shift in the post secondary landscape has been attracting attention from parents, policy makers, industry pundits and students. Across the border, last week, President Obama’s proposal offering two years of community college education, free of cost, for students, has prompted some comment in Canada as well.

Linda Franklin, President and CEO, Colleges Ontario, explained, “Students, parents, employers and society at large expect higher education to prepare students for long-term career success once they graduate. The expectation is that post-secondary education will provide people with the qualifications, talents and skills to succeed in a more challenging and innovative economy. The hands-on learning and career focused programs offered at public colleges are attracting more and more students looking to find meaningful careers.”

Higher education is viewed as a means to climb higher on the economic and social scale. A suitable job is the path through which that seems attainable. Therefore a career focused education assumes grave importance. The general conception is that a college education is more career focused and University education gives a broad based, more theoretical basis of knowledge. Both are important, but Franklin speaks to the direct correlation between education and jobs specially in the light of the youth unemployment figure in Ontario which stands at 16%. There is also the problem of underemployment, which is, graduates taking up low end jobs not commensurate with their education.

“Both college and university educations have a great deal to offer. It’s about providing a range of options for students and determining what educational pathway fits best. What comes as a surprise to some is that colleges offer a great deal of theoretical education. There is recognition higher education must reach a broader range of students – particularly from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in post-secondary education. To effectively lift greater numbers of people out of poverty, more people must be armed with the credentials and skills to pursue meaningful employment. We have seen a spike in university students applying to colleges. In the last 5 years, there has been a 40 percent increase in University students attending Ontario colleges. From diplomas, advanced diplomas and four-year degrees, this is where colleges excel,” she pointed out.

Colleges have an advisory board staffed by industry experts. This has enabled them to tailor their programs effectively.

“One of the many strengths of the sector is the robust partnerships with businesses and industry leaders. From Centennial College’s arrangement with Bombardier to Canadore College’s iCAMP Innovation Centre to Conestoga’s work with RIM, the college sector remains on the cutting edge of the marketplace thanks to its strong connections in the community,” she said. About 83% of graduates from Ontario’s colleges are employed within six months of completing their program.

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