Expanding degree programs creates more opportunities for graduates

Ontario' colleges need expanded degree programs
Ontario' colleges need expanded degree programs

As Ontario emerges from more than a year mired in the global pandemic, post-secondary leaders, business leaders and government are looking at “what’s next.” What steps should the province take to restore Ontario as an economic powerhouse?

This must start with strengthening the workforce, which will be key to our future success. A top priority should be enriching the employment opportunities and earning potential for post-secondary graduates.

For Ontario’s colleges, this means getting approval from government to expand our range of degree programs for specific careers.

Today, students in Ontario cannot get a three-year bachelors or a master’s degree in applied areas from a college, even though we can grant four-year degrees. Both of these additional credentials are important because they are critical to the qualifications mix that businesses need from their workforce as they seek to grow. It’s also what Ontario’s international competitors are already offering.

Currently, colleges in Ontario offer a mix of four-year degree programs, two-year and three-year diploma programs, in-class apprenticeship training and post-graduate certificate programs for university and college graduates. These programs provide students with a strong combination of theoretical learning and practical expertise that prepares them for successful careers.

However, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. As Ontario emerges from the pandemic, we should strengthen higher education to broaden the career options available to graduates and give businesses a new competitive advantage.

For example, a graduate who has entered the trades and is seeking to go into management may discover their employer wants someone with a degree in their field. For college graduates with a diploma, new opportunities to earn a degree could open new doors to career advancement.

Students, parents and employers overwhelmingly support our proposals to expand our range of career-focused degrees.

In fact, recently released polling research showed about 70 per cent of Ontarians would support the creation of new three-year degree programs at colleges.

Ontarians clearly want to see students provided with more opportunities to fulfil their career ambitions. Providing more degree programs will help more graduates advance in their careers and earn higher salaries.

Expanding the range of credentials available to students could:

  • Provide up to 60,000 recent graduates with opportunities to upgrade, allowing them to advance further in high-demand fields.
  • Provide a broader range of four-year degree programs for sectors where there is a demand for more graduates.
  • Provide more university and college graduates with opportunities to strengthen their qualifications for the workforce through master’s degree programs in specialized areas.

What’s needed now is for the provincial government to approve policy changes that give colleges the flexibility to offer more degree programs where they are needed in areas that align with demands in the labour market.

The government should allow colleges to create new three-year degree programs in addition to our three-year diploma programs. We also need the flexibility to increase our range of four-year degree programs and to create master’s degree programs in specialized technical areas such as robotics, cybersecurity and animation. We need this flexibility so that colleges can build on their strong track record of meeting the needs of Ontario’s businesses and employers – especially in smaller communities.

As well, all post-secondary students should be treated equitably, regardless of whether they are in college, university or apprenticeship training. Right now, this is not the case. For example, Ontario college students receive a diploma for three years of study when everywhere else in the world they would receive a three-year degree.

Broadening the programs available to students will strengthen the workforce and enhance Ontario’s competitiveness on the world stage.

As we emerge from the pandemic, Ontario should seize this opportunity to modernize and strengthen post-secondary education.

Linda Franklin

Linda Franklin is the past president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, the advocacy association for Ontario’s 24 colleges.