Three-year degrees will bolster the plans for micro-credentials

Class of 2020

Did you know that as of right now, colleges can offer and deliver four-year degrees but not three-year degrees? Instead, colleges are required to offer three-year advanced diplomas in many areas important to the economy.

This is something of a global anomaly. In most of the world, post-secondary programs that are essentially the same as our colleges’ three-year programs award degrees to graduates rather than diplomas.

The name of the credential can make a difference. Many employers are looking for people with degrees.

Awarding degrees to graduates rather than diplomas would enrich the career opportunities available to many graduates. For example, it would help graduates who might hit a glass ceiling when they are looking to advance into management positions.

As the College Student Alliance pointed out in a recent news release, the approval of three-year degrees would also make our programs more attractive to international students. That’s because most students and parents outside Ontario are unfamiliar with the diploma credential.

The government has every reason to approve the establishment of three-year degree programs at colleges as many of our three-year programs already align with the provincial standards for degree programs.

Even with that change, there would still be challenges for people who already graduated with diplomas. How can Ontario help those graduates in cases where they want to transition to degrees?

This is where the government’s planned expansion of micro-credential programs could make a real difference.

Micro-credentials are short-term programs that provide training for specific skills to help unemployed people and others quickly qualify for new careers.

These same types of programs could be used to help people with diplomas quickly acquire whatever additional education is required to fulfil the provincial requirements for a degree.

Currently, anyone interested in upgrading a college diploma to a post-secondary degree would need to enrol in full-time courses – usually at night – and complete them over a long period.

This is a time consuming and costly approach to upgrading that few people take on. It’s an approach that is much too cumbersome at a time when Ontario needs a more highly qualified and successful workforce.

The creation of three-year degree programs and the engagement of micro-credentials to fill any gaps in a diploma holder’s education creates a new and exciting opportunity to help more people advance in their careers.

The ability to upgrade from a diploma to a degree matters a lot, as three-year advanced diplomas grads can sometimes find they hit a glass ceiling when they want to move into management.

Ontario has an opportunity to use micro-credentials to significantly improve the career options available to hundreds of thousands of college graduates who currently hold three-year advanced diplomas – and do it almost immediately. This would create a huge win for many employees and employers in the province in a very short time.

Linda Franklin

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