Funding and Investment
Funding per college student in Ontario has been in decline for over 15 years. This reality challenges the quality of the educational experience for students and results in 1000’s of citizens not being able to attend college.
Recently, the Ontario government has made strides to correct this situation by investing in higher education at levels that we had not seen for many years. This support deserves to be recognized. Colleges Ontario Chair, Tony Tilly recently stated, “the government is equipping Ontario colleges to train graduates we need to grow the province’s economy”.
Notwithstanding these investments, Ontario has a long way to go to move from its position as the lowest funded college system in Canada. I am hopeful that the Ontario government, regardless of political party, will develop a progressive and sustainable vision for higher education in this Province. In the case of colleges, I would hope that this would also include more strategic investment in Ontario’s public college system.
Beyond a simple desire to have more funding, the question we must ask is where might this money come from? To some degree, seeking new resources is not the only solution. Another may be partly found in the realignment of current resources. That is, a shift of funding to academic programs where it may have the greatest impact on economic and social prosperity. In my view, that is a shift towards more job-oriented, professional programs of study.
Recently, the Ottawa Citizen reported, “Ottawa’s two universities say job-focused programs, such as science and engineering and business programs in particular, are growing in popularity”. This is good news for these two excellent institutions yet not new for colleges.
Beyond universities, colleges have also seen increased applications for their job-focused programs for many years. This move towards college education has not gone unnoticed. John Marcus suggests Canadians are abandoning university degrees in favor of a college education because colleges do a better job of providing real-world skills and knowledge that many employers desire (see: http://bit.ly/palO7D).
Not everyone supports this opinion. David Naylor, President of the University of Toronto (UT) suggested, “successful societies depend on creative people who are well rounded. That only comes from the grounding of curricula that are available at universities”. On this point, I disagree. Dr. Naylor is a noted scholar and appears to be an exemplary president. However, I believe his perspective on this point is too narrow.
Quite frankly, to suggest that successful societies and creative graduates are only developed in universities is inaccurate. I can attest that some of the country’s most creative minds are those of graduates coming from Canadian colleges. Game development, interior design, advanced housing, building construction, culinary management, outdoor adventure, photography, robotics and applied museum studies are just some of the examples of the college programs where creativity is demonstrated daily by innovative faculty, staff and students.
Diversity of Higher Education
I tend to support the more balanced position taken by the leader of the University of British Columbia. President Stephen Troope stated, “I don’t subscribe to the view that the best measure of success in a society is to increase the university participation rates exponentially. What the country needs is a diversity of higher education”. I agree. I also believe that this diversity of education will only be realized through more appropriate support for an under-funded college system, specifically in Ontario.
Next: The Courage to Find Balance – Part 2