Most readers of A Pilgrim In Narnia will not know that I spent a number of years working as a Researcher and Writer for the Prince Edward Island Government, especially in areas of Higher Education, advanced learning, career training, workforce development, and immigration. I am deeply passionate about helping people find their best vocational space. So, even though government writing is not for me, it was rooted in work I value.
Much of the career training in the US and Canada is provided by Private Training Schools and Private Career Colleges (PTS). These institutions may be new or old, nonprofit or for-profit, local brick-and-mortar schools or online programs (or a combination of the two). PTS provide everything from small program training (e.g., Embalming, Real Estate, Bartending/Mixology, Yoga Instructor Instruction, Language Teaching certifications), to large career programs (e.g., Office Admin, Nursing, Coding, Jazz Trombone, Electrical Engineering, Nuclear Facility Inspection), to academic programs (e.g., Sociology, Counselling, Business, Journalism, Religious Studies, Design, Architecture, Biology, Literature).
Most states and provinces have unique structures of law and policy for administrating higher education–and thus, particular structures for student support within a dynamic and ever-evolving educational marketplace. Thus, it can be difficult for students to navigate PTS and college pathways.
While large-scale fraud is rare in legitimate programs, there are often critical problems. Once again, CBC in Canada has committed to revealing bad practices in career training and doing good work keeping private colleges accountable. Today, CBC Marketplace has released an exposé on CDI College, a huge private, for-profit college in Canada with thousands of students. CDI College has 23 campuses in 5 Canadian provinces (BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec), but not PEI (where I live). CDI has been the subject of other investigative exposés, license investigations, student lawsuits, financial reporting investigations, and international student recruitment and support reviews. Now, they are facing difficult questions about their claims about accreditation and employment outcomes.
How important is the issue of PTS accountability and student protection? In the midst of my PhD, through the illness and death of my mother, in a period where I had books on my heart to write and a family I loved, I invested a huge amount of my time writing Policy, Legislation, and Regulations for Private Training Schools in Prince Edward Island. My hope was that I could help create structures where students could be a bit safer when making choices about where to invest their time and money.
Thus, I am disheartened that one of Canada’s largest educators is alleged to have lied to students about what their expensive education would mean. When you consider program fees and unpaid study time, the cost for students could be disastrous. For example, a one-year $20,000 program also costs $30,000 of lost wages (for a service worker in Canada). Students turning to PTS to make their dreams come true are the least likely to be able to incur $50,000 in meaningless debt.
By contrast, all of the local and online education I have been a part of has been very good to excellent–and often innovative and superior quality–places such as the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI, and the pics in this article are mostly from their gorgeous campus), Maritime Christian College, Signum University, Regent College, The King’s College (NYC), and Atlantic School of Theology.
Here are some quick notes about private colleges and a bit of advice for teachers, students, higher education administrators, and policy writers:
- “Accreditation” has specific, legal meanings in US and Canada, so ensure the program you are interested in/leading is using the term as defined in your state, province, or territory.
- Being a state-/province-approved, -regulated, or -legislated university or college is not the same as accreditation.
- Accreditation is not necessarily essential to what you want to study. However, ensure your training and education match the industry you are entering in terms of degrees, diplomas, credentials, licenses, training units, etc.
- Not all accreditation certifications have any meaning (e.g., in the US scene, DEAC, ATS, and the Bar are consistent and real, but there are dozens of dodgy ones).
- In my research, I found that most of the family-owned, small-business private colleges offered good-quality education and training.
- In my research, I also found that, in general, broader programs (like Office Administration or Computer Training) provided softer programming than state or provincial programs down the street.
- Ensure your education delivery is designed for that mode (i.e., online training is designed for online learning, not just adapted classroom materials) and matches what you want to learn (i.e., if your education will need hands-on, local, in-class or on-the-job learning, ensure that’s part of the program).
- In Canada, theological studies may fall under PTS categories or university categories, and may offer training for volunteer/unpaid work (nuns and monks, Sunday School teachers, music program leaders, spiritual directors, etc.) or professional work (pastors, professors, priests, preachers, missionaries, monks and nuns, etc.). For example, in PEI, Maritime Christian College is a denominational theological training school that offers career-path Bachelor degrees as well as certificates of training to support volunteer work. It is the oldest active degree-granting institution and falls under the University Act (with UPEI), while other theological schools would be under the PTS Act I wrote.
- Despite what the CBC article says, some schools can get accreditation in Canada (e.g., theological schools), but I don’t know of any more traditional career college accreditation systems for entire full-service schools (there were none we could trust during policy research, but you should do research in your state or province).
- In states and provinces with strong legislation, if a PTS makes any formal or informal claim about employment, credentials, or industry training, that claim must be veridical, confirmable, and evidence-based. Indeed, in most places, false claims may put the PTS is in jeopardy.
- PEI (and all jurisdictions I know) has a mechanism for student complaints, so reach out to your PTS administrator if you have a concern.
- I had a great team for writing legislation and policy but fraud is still possible. Quite honestly, we did not find a way to protect students from globally available online education. Thus, in PEI, we rooted our student protection in PTS that are situated here and offering whatever combination of on-campus, in-the-field, and online programs works best for their vocational focus.
I am no longer on any government payroll and am not currently being paid as an expert in this area by anyone. However, I work as a consultant, so I have a vested interest. My interest, however, is really that of a public intellectual, educator, parent, and friend. If we are real-life friends and you have questions about a particular school or training path, email me and we can chat. I am no longer an expert, but I might be able to help. And I would happily speak about the programs I know.
Best wishes everyone!
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A few years ago my grandson was left high and dry when the Seattle Art Institute went bankrupt. Well, they had various transfer options, but as you say… not all accreditations are equal.
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Oh, that is sad.