A focus on Access
Across North America there is evidence that earning a post secondary credential results in measurable rewards; both financial and social. In most cases, employers expect their employees to have a diploma or degree before they will consider hiring the applicant. In addition to the job itself, an additional reward for the new hire is that they can expect considerably higher salary than if they did not have that credential.
Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that there has been much talk in Canada and the US about the need to increase the number of individuals participating in higher education. Specifically in Ontario, the provincial government has made a deep commitment to seeing more students enroll in a college or university. Although noble, access should not be our measure of success. In reality, participation rates are already increasing not only in North America but also literally around the world.
Missing the Mark
Certainly there is political capital in flogging an increase in participation rates at colleges and universities. However, this metric misses the mark. In Ontario alone, colleges are forced to turn away thousands of qualified applicants every year because they do not have the spaces available for all these applicants. A progressive government must shift its focus away from college access and apply it to where it will receive a real return on its investment; on providing investments towards graduating those who have entered the institution.
A Move towards Graduation
Government funders (and institutions) must shift their priority from simply enrolling more students to one of achieving more graduates. This policy challenge is non-trivial and requires real leadership from political leaders including Ontario’s ‘education premier’. Specifically in Ontario, to achieve a measureable improvement in graduation rates, institutions must be afforded appropriate investments at least similar in scale to the millions of dollars provincial school boards receive annually to support student success. Across all jurisdictions, there must be a shift from access to one of attainment; it is here that taxpayers and other funders will receive a real return on their investment and the students will receive the credential they require.