The relationship of the community colleges to other providers of post-secondary education in Canada and implications for policy

Michael L Skolnik


The community college is one of many providers of postsecondary and adult education in Canada. In making decisions about how the community college should allocate its efforts among various possible programs and activities, it is important to understand its relationship to other providers of postsecondary and adult education. This paper describes and analyzes the relationship between Canada's community colleges and other providers of postsecondary and adult education in Canada. It attempts to identify the comparative strengths and weaknesses of community colleges relative to other providers with respect to particular types of activity, and from that analysis it offers suggestions regarding the emphases that colleges might give to certain of their activities.
Two important foundational elements for an analysis of this type pertain to the data on community college activity in the area of postsecondary and adult education relative to other providers, and on the essential nature and identify of the community college. In regard to the first, the paper examines the sources of data on postsecondary and adult education in Canada and identifies the significant limitations that exist in such data, particularly with respect to nonpublic and less formalized types of postsecondary and adult education. While recognizing the qualifications that must be attached to any such estimate, the paper suggests that the community college is likely the largest provider of postsecondary and adult education in Canada, and that it may be serving as much as forty per cent of the total number of persons involved in such activity. With regard to the second foundational issue, the paper argues that the most salient defining characteristic of the community college may be its emphasis on preparing individuals for productive employment in the middle sector of the workforce. The author suggests that the movement of colleges into baccalaureate programs as the skill and knowledge needs of this segment of the workforce have increased is perfectly consistent with the idea of the community college.
In regard to the relationship between community colleges and universities, the paper discusses recent concerns about alleged blurring of the boundaries between these two sectors and concludes that both strengthening the transfer function of the colleges and allowing colleges to offer baccalaureate programs in selected fields can better enable universities to concentrate on their unique mission and strengths, and in so doing bring greater benefit to society. As for another of the college's competitors, the author argues that private career colleges play an important role, but that for offering a wide range of high quality career programs at relatively low tuition while at the same time providing an opportunity for broad intellectual and social development, the community colleges are unrivaled. Finally, the paper considers the role of the colleges with respect to short term training and retraining and provision of basic skills. The author suggests that the complementarity between these and other college functions has diminished as knowledge has advanced and that community agencies and other small scale providers of such services have advantages over colleges in serving many clients.


Higher education; community colleges

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Higher Education Perspectives. ISSN: 1710-1530