Exploring High Performing Colleges: Setting the Context

1.5 Million Reasons to Celebrate Ontario Colleges

Ontario’s college system is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.  Over this time, it has been estimated that these colleges have graduated approximately 1.5 million students. Through recessions, technological change, incessant underfunding and a rapidly changing economy, Ontario colleges have proven to be resilient.  These public colleges have evolved and today have become one of the most admired college systems in the world.

The Status Quo is not Acceptable

This undeniable success that Ontario colleges have enjoyed, could result in some leaders becoming satisfied with maintaining the status quo.  After all, student access continues to grow, graduates are finding employment and people from around the world are observing how these public higher education enterprises operate.  However, as we continue into the second decade of the third millennia, there are warning signs for Ontario colleges; signals that new challenges are emerging and new forces at play.  Now, more than at any time in Ontario College history is the need for insightful, adaptive and effective leadership.

Ontario’s quasi-public colleges are being influenced by a variety of internal and external factors including serious economic volatility, rapidly changing industry needs, an increasingly competitive post-secondary marketplace and a shifting student demography that has a heightened expectation with respect to their college experience.  College leaders must know how to navigate through this 21st century post-secondary minefield.

The pressures facing higher education are problematic, yet what is more worrisome for Ontario colleges is that these changes may impact open access institutions more significantly than they will influence universities.  Studies have indicated that the gap that exists between selective universities and more open access colleges will widen in new ways in the coming years.  This will complicate our efforts to define both the idea of higher education and the concept of access to higher education; in particular Ontario Colleges.

College Leadership and High Performing Colleges

Certainly, the complications facing Ontario colleges appear daunting.  However, what is encouraging is that some colleges have been successful in responding to these challenges.  Over the coming months, I will explore what some Ontario colleges have done to achieve high performance relative to other Ontario colleges.  I will also explore the critical role of presidential leadership and its impact on the success of these colleges.  I look forward to sharing insights from personal research conducted in this area of college leadership.

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About kentmacdonald

President and Vice Chancellor Professor, Faculty of Education St. Francis Xavier University
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