LETTERS: Time for three-year college degrees

A letter from NC president Dan Patterson regarding the importance of allowing public colleges to start offering three-year degree programs, was posted by Niagara’s Sun Media publications on April 16, 2014.

It reads:

As Ontario strives to address the unemployment problem, it is more important than ever to produce post-secondary graduates with career-focused qualifications. The province needs more college graduates.

A key step Ontario must take is to allow the public colleges to start offering three-year degree programs. Currently, Ontario’s colleges can award degrees to graduates of four-year programs, but must award diplomas to graduates of three-year programs. This needs to change. In most OECD countries, graduates of three-year post-secondary programs – including graduates of career-focused programs – earn degrees.

It’s time to elevate Ontario to international levels and adopt the same standard here. The need for such reform is clear. Growing numbers of employers seek people with degree credentials who have the advanced skills and qualifications to succeed in the new economy. Many parents and students also have a strong preference for degree programs, including degrees in applied areas of study.

There’s nothing radical about this idea. As far back as 1972, an Ontario commission on post-secondary education recommended that colleges that wish to offer three-year degree programs should be allowed to do so. Furthermore, the government knows that colleges can deliver high-quality degree programs.

Allowing colleges to offer a broader range of degree programs will help emphasize career-specific post-secondary education at a time when Ontario needs more highly qualified graduates. Too many young people are unemployed or underemployed. Part of the reason is that there is a skills mismatch between the skills and credentials held by people seeking work and the qualifications sought by employers. While there is debate about the size of the skills mismatch, there is recognition that employers in many sectors can’t find qualified people, even as the unemployment rate remains quite high.

The skills gap challenge is expected to get worse as new technologies and innovations continue to transform the economy and create even greater demands for highly qualified people. The Ontario government needs to approve the introduction of three-year degree programs at colleges, and expand the opportunities for students to pursue four-year degrees.

Dan Patterson, President, Niagara College

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