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More must be done to weed out problem private career colleges in Alberta

Education is a path to a better future. Or at least it should be.

Private Career Colleges (PCCs) are vital to our training and education ecosystem, connecting learners to meaningful work in professions such as truck drivers, legal assistants, personal care workers, and more. By offering courses that are short in duration, PCCs rapidly connect learners to good jobs. That’s the promise, anyway.

Unfortunately, too many PCCs are hurting, not helping, their students. For a growing number of Albertans, pursuing a post-secondary education at a PCC has led to nothing but headaches and hardship.

These students were promised a quality education, good job prospects, and support in navigating their job search; instead, they received out-of-date class materials, false information, unqualified instructors, limited (if any) job opportunities, and massive student loan debt. Imagine owing thousands of dollars in debt for a diploma that employers don’t recognize. Some of the most vulnerable learners in our province are doing exactly this — paying tens of thousands of dollars for a ticket to nowhere.

Take Margarita (pseudonym), for example. Margarita attended a Rehab Therapy Assistant program at a PCC. She asked the right questions — about books, about costs, about jobs, about the certifications she would earn. Assured by the college staff and with high hopes for her future, Margarita took the leap and enrolled.

It did not go as promised. The books she paid for didn’t arrive in time for class. The classes she attended were taught by instructors who were not qualified to teach the program.  When it came time to find her practicum, she reached out to hospitals and clinics only to be told that the program at her college was not properly certified.

When Margarita and her classmates discovered this, they asked for a refund on their tuition. The college was unresponsive. Their attempts at escalation yielded no results.

“In the end, I lost $15,000 and six months of study, and ended up with no certification or job for taking the program.” said Margarita.  On top of this, the student loan debt she now struggles to repay severely limits her ability to take further education at a more reputable institution.

Many stories like Margarita’s

Margarita’s story is not unique in Alberta or across Canada. When we began looking into student experiences at PCCs, we found a system with significant challenges. A system that often preys upon vulnerable students and newcomers. A system that is frequently not meeting its most essential function — connecting students to good jobs. Many other non-profits and social service agencies have confirmed our findings.

And while there are plenty of high-quality, high-value colleges in Alberta, the industry has so many poor performers that it is very difficult for a prospective student to know if they’ve made the right choice. Canada and Alberta are developing a reputation for allowing low-quality schools to flourish.

The Government of Alberta has recently been responsive and has taken action to start addressing the problems with many PCCs, but more is required to ensure that high-quality PCCs can meet the demand from Albertans to access education and training that can result in a good job. Alberta can and must be one of the best and safest provinces in which to pursue an education at public or private colleges.

Allowing poor-quality schools to continue operating, damages the reputation of high-quality PCCs and dashes the dreams and livelihoods of hopeful students trying to build a better future.

Education is supposed to help us get ahead. For too many Albertans, education at a Private Career College is instead holding them back. Urgent action is needed to protect vulnerable learners better.

Private Career College Experiences in Alberta (23.04.10) by Darren Krause on Scribd