Statement - Public colleges are the talent pipeline for Ontario’s economic future

Public colleges are the talent pipeline for Ontario’s economic future

Ontario’s economic future depends on graduates from Ontario’s public colleges.

From advanced manufacturing to the end-to-end electric vehicle supply chain, from meeting health-care needs to expanding our critical minerals sector, from housing construction to the nuclear industry – Ontario’s public colleges are and will continue to be a critical source of skilled talent, supporting Ontario’s ambitious economic growth agenda.

To ensure students continue to get the top-notch education and training to prepare them for today’s job market, Ontario’s public colleges need stable and adequate revenue.

On November 15, the Ontario government’s blue-ribbon panel released a report on the financial stability of Ontario’s post-secondary sector that directly addressed these issues. We thank the province for appointing this panel of experts and for recognizing that we all have a shared interest in – and  responsibility to ensure – a strong public post-secondary system. We look forward to working in partnership with the province and our many industry partners to strengthen Ontario’s talent pipeline and to ensure students have everything that they need to succeed.

We are pleased the panel made recommendations that would strengthen Ontario’s public college system’s ability to grow programs to meet employer needs. Specifically, we are calling on the government to follow through on the report’s recommendations and to quickly:

  • End the tuition freeze and permit a modest five per cent increase in public college tuition.
  • Implement common-sense changes to create the opportunity for students to study high-demand programs or to enrol part time.
  • Increase provincial investment in public college students through a 10 per cent increase in operating grants.
  • Create a distinct tuition policy for public colleges that addresses the long-standing inequities between college and university education.

To ensure Ontario continues to have the workforce it needs to drive economic growth, Colleges Ontario is calling on the government to quickly implement key recommendations from the blue ribbon panel report:

1. Unfreeze tuition and implement a modest five per cent increase in tuition for September 2024.

Tuition at Ontario’s public college was cut in 2019 and has been frozen ever since. Average annual tuition for a full-time Ontario college diploma student stands at approximately $2,700 per year – the second lowest in the country. We support the panel’s recommended 5 per cent increase for September 2024.

A modest increase in tuition will help ensure we can continue to provide strong programs and student supports across the province.

2. Lift the enrolment cap on high-demand programs.

Colleges should be able to expand enrolment in programs that meet employer needs. That is our core mission – to meet labour market needs in our community. To ensure employers get the talent they need, the panel notes that lifting the arbitrary cap on high-demand programs is a common-sense measure that aligns with what universities already do.

3. Create a differentiated approach for college tuition that recognizes the significant gap between college and university tuition.

College programs are hands-on and given technology and equipment needs, college programs in many cases are not less expensive to deliver than university programs. The panel recognized that different approaches are often needed for colleges and has recommended a differentiated approach for college tuition that recognizes the vast gap between college and university tuition – failure to do so, the report notes, “will create negative impacts on program quality.”

If college and university tuition increase at the same pace, the gap will in fact widen significantly from a gap/difference of approximately $5,200 per year now to over $7,000 per year difference in 10 years.

4. Implement the recommended 10 per cent increase in provincial grants for college programs for September 2024.

Provincial investment in college students has been frozen since 2019.   With costs going up every day, this means continued pressures on programs and campuses. Ontario’s public colleges now lose money on every domestic student they serve. College programs are hands-on and require up-to-date equipment and technology so that graduates remain job ready. 

The panel notes that Ontario invests significantly less in our college students than do other provinces – in fact, our college students receive only 44 per cent of the public investment that students receive in other parts of Canada. And Ontario’s investment in domestic college students is nearly $3,000 per student less than its investment in university students.

Taking some steps to close this investment gap will allow colleges to continue to adapt their teaching to quickly changing industry standards and technology in high-growth sectors.

5. Ensure we can grow part time programs and support students who want to study part time.

Currently, the provincial investment in a part-time college student is half that of a full-time student enrolled in the same program. For example, a full-time student enrolled in one college’s business program generates $345 per course in government investment but if that same student decides to go part time, the investment drops to only $178 per course. This approach does not make sense – it is an administrative relic that the panel rightly points out needs to change. We call on the province to ensure that college students who elect to continue their studies part time are treated equally. This would align us with what universities are already doing.  

Most college students do not come straight from high school and this recommendation recognizes that many people return to school at a different point in life to build and refine their skills and – in some cases – upgrade credentials.

The government has also indicated its desire for the post-secondary sector to undertake an efficiency review.

Ontario’s public colleges already provide excellent value for money. Colleges have been operating under tight fiscal constraints for decades and have found many ways to work together and find efficiencies.  For example, we already have a single bargaining approach, a single application service, collaborative purchasing and collaborative curriculum development. 

We take this issue very seriously and we look forward to working with the Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop to find any avenues for additional collaboration and potential efficiencies.

Quick facts

  • 25 per cent of current job vacancies across Ontario demand college credentials. In the next 10 years, 36 per cent of employment growth will be in jobs requiring college.
  • Our 24 public colleges operate in 200 locations serving local labour markets across Ontario – in many small municipalities, these colleges are the only access point for further education and training.
  • Training 500,000 students and graduating over 125,000 job-ready workers every year, public colleges are purpose-built to prepare students for the labour market.
  • Under the current model, public colleges lose money on every domestic student we serve. This is not a sustainable business model. Investments in a first-year college student in a diploma program [operating grants and domestic tuition] are only half of those invested in a first-year university student – a gap of over $7,800 per year.

Source: Ensuring Financial Sustainability for Ontario’s Postsecondary Sector, November 2023

Colleges prepare graduates for Ontario’s workforce needs

Many of the most in-demand jobs require the skills learned only at a public college. Public colleges work closely with local businesses and industry to deliver integrated learning opportunities to fill current and future critical labour gaps. The hands-on training using tools, machines, labs and simulations also let graduates hit the ground running but it does require continuous investments in equipment, facilities and technology.

A focus on STEM

Ontario’s public colleges also play a leading role in filling the demand for highly qualified people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Over 25,000 people graduate from the colleges’ STEM programs each year – an increase of about 10,000 graduates per year since 2016. Every year, Ontario sees more demand for STEM-related jobs. Of the province’s 68,000 STEM graduates per year, about 50,000 are undergraduates - and Ontario’s public colleges provide about half of those.   

A leader in ensuring health care is available across the province

Colleges will be critical to solving the health human resources crisis in Ontario’s health-care system. In the first quarter of 2023, there were over 22,000 vacancies for health positions requiring education that only colleges can provide, representing nearly 60 per cent of all health sector vacancies in the province. Colleges currently offer more than 100 unique health-care programs, preparing students for careers in medical lab technology, nursing, personal support work, dental hygiene and paramedicine among many others. Our francophone colleges ensure health-care talent is available to meet needs across the province in either language of choice.

Public colleges help drive investment in Ontario

We have heard time and again that “talent” is the biggest draw for business investment. Many in-demand jobs in Ontario – across high-priority sectors – only college graduates can do. We are proud of the role we play in creating opportunities for students and workers across the province and ensuring Ontario remains a business destination of choice for investors from around the world.

Collaboration is key

Ontario’s ability to continuously grow and meet future workforce needs is dependent on supporting adequate investments in our college students. With continued collaboration across levels of government and industry partners, we can ensure that Ontario businesses have a reliable talent pipeline trained to the latest industry standards.