Sheridan University? (Two Responses)

Last week, I wrote a post c0mmenting upon Sheridan College President Jeff Zabudsky’s announcement that he intended to turn Sheridan into a university.  I followed it up with a post speculating about some of the reasons why university graduate schools may be shying away from admitting students who graduated with degrees from Ontario colleges.

I’m grateful to have received two responses to those posts, which I’m excerpting below.

The first is from our most frequent correspondent.  He ties the current credentialing muddle to the forces that — from practically the very start — diverted Ontario’s colleges from their original vision as a post-secondary institutions that stood alone from universities, but nevertheless provided and required a broad range of both vocational and avocational offerings.  He argues that the result of the government’s abandonment of this (or any) clearly-delineated role for Ontario colleges . . .

. . . has been predictable chaos. Most colleges are seeking new names, new identities and a new focus. Some are cementing their “articulation agreements” with universities. Some are going whole-hog for their own “degree” programs. Some are just flailing around, more or less directionless and increasingly panicky.

And, in the middle of the mess are the students and the educations they were promised. The real “market value” of college degrees is untested, but this much is certain: the last thing college students need to worry about is whether their college degrees will get them into M.Sc, M.A., M.F.A., M.S.W., M.Ed. or other fancy credentialed programs. The real problem is that college degrees are not even guaranteed to translate into any credits toward an ordinary B.A. (Never mind what employers think.)

There have been at least two fundamental problems with the colleges: (1) their failure to take their original mandate seriously; (2) their inability to negotiate transfer of credits to universities. There have been at least two accompanying failures by the various governments of Ontario: (1) their failure to give proper leadership and direction to the colleges; (2) their abrogation of responsibility when they abandoned the colleges by tossing them into the roiling academic waters and telling them to learn to swim. The universities, of course, are not blameless. For decades they have held themselves aloof and treated colleges with contempt. Now that they are struggling for funding in a society that no longer seems to care much about education, they are scrambling to maximize their profit potential by only making deals with colleges that are to their financial and market-share advantage. It is laissez-faire at very close to its worst.

The losers? First, the students; then, the teachers; and, in time, our society as a whole.

Our correspondent’s observation about the “real problem” facing holders of college degrees is neatly corroborated by this story — from a correspondent in southwestern Ontario:

[In] my niece’s experience (in 2012), Ontario Grad Schools do not recognize or even acknowledge an Ontario Post-Diploma Program. A requirement for admission into the college post-diploma was a BA (preferably Honours) in a related field. Upon applying to grad school this year, the four Ontario Universities to which she applied did not even want her College transcripts, as they were deemed irrelevant. She sent them in anyway, but questioned the validity and usefulness of her time spent in College, if the education achieved is of no value to the University system. One would think that more education is better; however that’s logic and common sense.

One would indeed think that more education is better, but I do personally think that if colleges want their offerings to be recognized as legitimate by universities, then they owe it to themselves — and their students — to take into account the universities’ own standards and principles.  One of those principles is academic freedom.  Another is the role of Academic Senates to establish and enforce academic policies.

And if the colleges are indeed interested in obtaining credibility among universities, then I think that these two principles might be an excellent starting-place for the representatives of both management and faculty at Ontario colleges to seek common ground this summer, as they begin to negotiate a new Collective Agreement.

As ever, please send your thoughts to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.  Your anonymity will be preserved.

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