University vs Community College in Canada

Yes I know it’s family day here in Canada, but I figured that people might enjoy a post anyway. A topic close to my heart is post secondary education.

University vs College has always been a bit of a mystery to me as it is a unique issue that exists here in Canada. In many other countries like the USA, Universities and Colleges are all part of one system. In Canada Colleges are a lower form of education that does not have a migration path to the University system. Both my wife and I attended a Community College first and then completed a University program some time later. Having completed a program in both systems, puts me in a unique position to comment.

The community college that we attended started out with 50 students in Electrical Engineering Technology. The program had a set minimum curriculum but if the professors had an exceptional class they were allowed to modify the requirements. As luck would have it, my class was one of the exceptional ones. The end result was that of the 50 students that started the program only 9 graduated. The program covered everything from RF and Microwave system design to motors and computers.

Both my wife and I hit the market at a perfect time (1981) and had no problem finding jobs with our college diplomas. We soon discovered that the college diploma allowed companies to pay significantly less for people who could do the same job as a University graduate. In some cases the practical experience that Community Colleges demanded meant that college graduates already had experience and actually did the job better.

The compensation issue caused us both to consider seeking a university degree which we managed to do over a three period (Three semesters a year). The university program was set with a fixed curriculum and the professors could care less about whether you attended classes. Compared to College, it was a breeze. We were not granted any credits for our College diplomas, but we were allowed to write challenge exams to allow us to bypass some first year courses.

The day we graduated both our salaries went up 30% and we were doing the same jobs. I don’t think that this is still the case as Community colleges seem to now have a set curriculum which has dropped the competency level of their graduates. It is doubtful that a college student today would be able to perform at the same level as a University graduate from an Engineering program.

What I find frustrating however is that Universities in Canada still have no program in place to recognize college credits for people who want to continue their education. There also does not seem to be a standard curriculum for programs offered at Community Colleges. Now I say this with some reservation and encourage readers to comment if things have changed.

Colleges do cost less than Universities which causes many financially strapped lower income families to steer their children that way. When these children realize the value of education there should be a way for them to reach their maximum potential. If that means going on to University, it should not be as difficult as it was for my wife and I.

We don’t have enough tech workers in North America to build and manufacture the goods we consume. President Obama asked industry leaders in California what their biggest problems were and Steve Jobs commented that he had to build Apple products in China because there were not enough technical resources to do it in the USA.

Silicon Vally North needs trained College and University graduates to build the next generation of tech companies. I don’t believe that the differences between College and University graduates are significant enough to have two separate programs and compensation levels.

Come on Canada…. Lets clean this up! We need a county wide standard for all Universities and Colleges. It will then be up to the institutions to control the quality of their products and their reputations. I believe the USA has it right.

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