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Higher Ed Reform Goes North

If you’re wondering how the United States could (slowly) let the air out of its higher education bubble, the Washington Post has a suggestion for you: look north. The Post piece describes an educational niche carved out by Canadian “colleges” (roughly the equivalent of America’s two-year community colleges).

The chief difference between these Canadian colleges and their American counterparts is a focus on practical knowledge and job skills. While American community colleges often proffer a lighter, watered-down version of full-university curriculum, Canadian colleges groom students for specific jobs:

‘The collective wisdom is, if you want to get a job, going to a college will mean nine times out of 10 you’ll be employed in your area of interest six months after graduation,’ said James Knight, president and chief executive of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. ‘Not to be negative about any other form of education, but we’ve discovered we can do this extremely well.’

While there will always be a need for in-depth liberal education, it’s not for everyone, and we do young students a disservice by using a one-size-fits-all educational model regardless of subject. A traditional four-year college experience makes sense for aspiring academics; it makes a lot less sense for those who aspire to a career in hospitality management.

More colleges Canada style could help more Americans (young and not so young) learn actual skills for actual jobs at a price they can actually afford.

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  • WigWag

    Really? Those who aspire to a career in hospitality management wouldn’t benefit both professionally and personally from a four year college experience? Isn’t that elitist in the extreme?

  • Anthony

    More quality secondary schools could enable more young Americans to acquire foundation of skills to excercise option (full college, two year, trade school, etc.) while calibrating overall costs beyond High School.

  • Kris

    “While there will always be a need for in-depth liberal education”

    Well here’s an idea: let’s have the traditional universities focus on in-depth liberal education, without remedial classes and lowered standards. The real thing they pretend to, not the simulacrum it often is. What’s that? Most students wouldn’t cut it? Well then, maybe there’s room for the colleges mentioned here.

  • Cunctator

    The colleges are often popularly called trade schools, setting them apart from degree-granting colleges and universities.

    Yes, we have these in Canada. But the real problem is that our society still looks down on those who pursue a blue-collar job of whatever type. So, everyone wants to get into a university and, aware of the demand, politicians pander to it — guaranteeing every high school graduate a place in a university (if they want it). We need to somehow alter the view that trades are less socially acceptable.

  • Lorenz Gude

    Well, the trouble in America is that all the children are above average, while in the rest of the world they are just average. Like here in Australia where we have TAFE colleges (that’s Technical and Further Education, girls and boys) . Why you can go to one of our TAFE colleges and qualify for a license to install natural gas systems in automobiles, which implies, I think, that sometimes quite average places get to the future before the United States. I have done research on Australia’s TAFE system and, believe me, they have their institutional problems. But a long time ago I worked in an American Community College which was definitely considered above average in part because we were pioneers at taking illiterate and innumerate high school graduates and two years later palming them off on four year colleges and universities as the above average students they were from the beginning. However, we did have some programs that directly qualified people for jobs. They were called ‘terminal programs’.

  • Eurydice

    This assumes that being trained for a job will get you the job. Employers like to think they’re getting extra value when they go for a university graduate – extra skills, extra smarts, extra committment – especially in the current market when an expensive degree doesn’t automatically command a commensurate salary. It’s not enough for community colleges to produce a product, they have to market it as well.

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