This article was first published on July 14, 2009. Since it is once again the time of year when those high school graduates (who have not already applied to public post-secondary institutions) start thinking about what to do after graduation, here is a “buyer beware” alert about private career colleges.
No matter where you live in Canada or the United States, if you are thinking about attending a private career college, always keep in mind that it’s like any other business investment. You don’t depend on the government. You do your own research. In other words, it’s buyer beware!
Private career colleges are businesses
Meaning that unlike publicly funded colleges, which are not-for-profit government regulated organizations, private career schools are private businesses, with owners who want to make a profit. As such, when they experience financial difficulties, they either shut down willingly, are forced to shut down, or they go bankrupt — often leaving students hung out to dry.
However, it should also be said, that owners of private colleges create jobs and contribute to the economic well being of their communities. And, when things are done right, a private career college can be a win/win for everyone involved. For example, I did some course development work for the head office of a very large private career college group a number of years ago, an organization that tried very hard to provide the kind of programs that were needed. So, let’s not forget that there are hundreds, if not thousands of reputable private career colleges in our cities and towns.
Ontario Ombudsman Report on Bestech
That said, given the previously released report by Ontario Ombudsman, Andre Marin on the closure of “Bestech Academy,” there are some situations that turn out very badly for all concerned. Mr. Marin refers to the Bestech case as an unmitigated disaster “that points to a much wider problem with the province’s policing of private training operators” and the need for the Ontario government to “tighten regulations.”
However, therein lies the essential problem. Bestech was unregulated and NOT under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Private Career College Act, 2005. So, the Ontario government could not have done much more than they did. They shut it down.
Normally, to be declared an exception under Ontario law and allowed to be “unregulated,” the courses offered have to be about job-skills specific training such as learning how to be a professional dealer for a casino. Clearly, Bestech was not in that “exception” category.
But, had it been regulated, it would have been a different story with a very different ending. To see what I mean, follow this link and then scroll down the page to Part VII and read subsections 38 and 39 in particular. While not policing per se, the legislation certainly does have teeth.
Some helpful tips
Anyway, if anyone reading this lives in Ontario and is considering attending a private career college, here are some government links which might prove helpful.
- Thinking about a private career college.
- Registering a private college in Ontario.
- Registration Exemptions under the Act.
- Graduation default rates for private colleges in Ontario for 2006. (Note: default data is always a few years behind).
- Graduation default rates for public colleges & universities (for comparison purposes).
- The Ontario government search engine to check out whether a career college is regulated and a program approved.
Regarding items (4) and (5) above, you need to read between the lines because the annual student loan default rate reports can show trends. For example, if a high percentage of students default on their student loans in one particular program or one specific college, it could mean some students either didn’t graduate from their program or they didn’t pay off their loans because they didn’t get jobs in their chosen field.
Buyer beware caution applies
In any event, I wrote this article to point out that unlike publicly funded institutions, where students are students, at private career colleges, students are also customers. Meaning, that the buyer beware caution applies.