A Community College: Different Programs, Different Prospects

I completed my dissertation in partnership with an Alberta community college. Like most all community colleges, this institution was an important centre for credentialing in short courses and diplomas: the kinds of programs that could get people in to the workforce quickly, and match skills to high-needs occupational areas. The college relied on government funding for a great deal of its operating budget: Alberta Works clients on social assistance were funded to complete programs of study in the hopes that this would get them “off the dole,” so to speak, and employed to a level of self-sufficiency. The program is not unlike what is offered by Ontario Works.

The students who participated in my study were pursuing Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) diplomas. The program was demanding and intensive, but graduates had a reasonable expectation of good paying work in health care. Most all I interviewed were interested in becoming nurses or nurse practitioners in the long run, and at the time of study, some pathways were in place to help LPN graduates to pursue these goals.

The college also offered shorter programs. In four to twelve months, students might complete credentials to become fork lift operators, day home providers, or health care aides. The provincial government was happy to just to get people working, and these less-skilled jobs might be appropriate for people — recent immigrants or example — who lacked the education and English language skills to tackle longer and more complex learning pathways.

Yet these short programs were missing something very important: the prospect of progress and growth that was available to the LPN students I was working with. Students were discouraged from completing any courses outside of those absolutely required to get them in to the workforce as quickly a possible, which meant that many could not even advance toward a high school diploma so long as they were on Alberta Works funding. Once obtaining credentials or certification, most could expect to work in jobs that would afford little future learning — credentialed or otherwise.

From the perspective of policy makers, in the college I worked with, LPNs with jobs and childcare providers with jobs were both success stories if they resulted in fewer people receiving public assistance. The college tallies its completion rates and employment rates. Numbers are reported. Fiscal year ends are closed, and new academic years begin. But what of our graduate x-ray technicians, childcare providers and medical receptionists? Are their jobs stable? Are they fulfilling? Will they have future opportunities to gain new knowledge and skills? Will their experience in their present jobs be valued by future employers?
<h4><strong>Education With Prospects for the Future</strong></h4>
There is no doubt that short courses offered by community colleges fulfill important roles, both in terms of individual development and meeting immediate labour market needs. However, the limited prospects for future growth in such occupations highlights many of the problems that arise when work and learning are constructed by policy makers entirely in economic terms — as something divorced from people’s community lives, interests and aspirations.

The capabilities approach to education calls for a more expansive understanding of education and work. It is a vision that cannot be achieved through market mechanisms alone. Presently, employability programs — particularly those aligned with so-called “welfare-to-work” schemes — perform a short-term and arguably short-sighted <em>matching</em> function: they develop skills in potential workers and match workers to jobs that need to be filled. The outcome is one with a good likelihood of employing people, but also of keeping them trapped in jobs without opportunities for growth (Keep &amp; James, 2012).
<h4><strong>Coordinating Work and Learning</strong></h4>
Instead of a matching function, such programs need to move toward a coordinating function that builds and relies upon community partnerships. Because of their strong geographical roots and vocational focus, community colleges are ideally suited to perform this function (Wheelahan, 2016). Comparing Ontario’s VET-oriented colleges to Australia’s TAFEs, Wheelahan argues that Ontario’s system is superior because it relies more upon “high trust” relationships among employers, workers’ organizations, and educational institutions. Strong, flexible local partnerships make it more likely that VET can be developed within a capabilities framework rather than the narrow, short-term focus on skills engendered by human capital theory.

A similar vision for strong collaboration is articulated in the 2016 report to the Ontario Premier, <em>Building the Workforce of Tomorrow</em>. Interestingly, the panel states that, rather than inquiry toward a “highly skilled workforce,” it would be “more useful for the province to focus on the workforce as a whole.” (p. 10) The distinction drawn here is not elaborated and is thus somewhat unclear. It may be interpreted as aiming for greater inclusion of workers and labour market positions at the lower end of the skills sector in policy visioning and policy development.

The model of collaboration promoted in the report is similar to the partnership model that Wheelahan and Moodie have promoted within the capabilities framework. Instead of relying on markets that can buffet disadvantaged workers about in the “low pay no pay cycle,” (Essential Skills Ontario, 2012) social partnerships are intentional efforts among stakeholders to coordinate education, training and paid employment. Ideally such efforts yield vocational streams — overlapping occupations and occupational sectors that draw on like or similar capabilities (Wheelahan, Yu &amp; Buchanan, 2015). The goal of developing vocational streams is to strengthen both horizontal and vertical mobility in ways that benefit workers and employers alike.
<h4><strong>Keeping the Full Spectrum in Mind</strong></h4>
The size and visibility of Ontario’s higher education sector makes it easy to focus on the kinds of pathways that move people diplomas to degrees — from mid-skill credentials to applied or academic degrees with subsequent potential for graduate skills. Indeed, PEW’s <a href=”http://https:/www.oise.utoronto.ca/pew/current-projects1/”>present SSHRC project</a> is focused very much in this area.

However, it is also important to recognize the kinds of pathways work that needs to happen at the lower end of the skills spectrum. Present PEW initiatives to map pathways for Canada’s engineers and nurses are revealing some of the challenges of developing career ladders and vocational streams that help people with short qualifications to move into academic and applied academic programs. These challenges must be addressed if a fully inclusive model of post-secondary pathways is to become a reality.


Conway, S. (2016). <em>Building the workforce of tomorrow</em>. Report from the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel. Retrieved from <a href=”https://files.ontario.ca/hsw_rev_engaoda_webfinal_july6.pdf”>https://files.ontario.ca/hsw_rev_engaoda_webfinal_july6.pdf</a>

Essential Skills Ontario (2012). <em>From better skills to better work</em>. Toronto ON: Author.

Keep, E., &amp; James, S. (2012). A Bermuda triangle of policy? “Bad jobs”, skills policy and incentives to learn at the bottom end of the labour market. <em>Journal of Education Policy, 27</em>(2), 211–230. <a href=”https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2011.595510″>https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2011.595510</a>

Wheelahan, L. (2016). <em>Vocational education in crisis: Why we need a new social settlement</em>. Centre of the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education. OISE, University of Toronto.

Wheelahan, L., Buchanan, J., &amp; Yu, S. (2015). <i>Linking qualifications and the labour market through capabilities and vocational streams. Synthesis report</i>. National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER). Adelaide. Retrieved from https://www.ncver.edu.au/__data/assets/file/0018/9261/linking-quals-and-labour-market.pdf

The Impact of College Baccalaureates on Access and Student Identity

by Edmund Adam

In 2000, the Postsecondary Education Choice and Excellence Act authorised Ontario’s colleges to award bachelor degrees. It marked a milestone in a journey that had begun a decade earlier with Charles Pascal’s (1990) Vision 2000, which recommended the creation of new degree-granting institutions. The government justified this reform on various grounds. A strong rationale was broadening student access to baccalaureate level study, particularly for students from groups under-represented in the university.

In 2002, college baccalaureates were officially introduced into Ontario’s post-secondary education (PSE) system, with nine colleges offering 12 baccalaureate programmes. In 2016, thirteen colleges offered 108 baccalaureate programmes, and with full-time enrolments estimated at 15,000. However, the question remains about the extent to which college baccalaureates have achieved the social objective of widening access – that is, facilitated baccalaureate completion rates for traditionally under-represented target groups.

Prior studies in other jurisdictions indicate that college baccalaureates have indeed broadened PSE participation for under-represented groups (Floyd, Skolnik, & Walker, 2005; Wheelahan, Moodie, Billett, & Kelly, 2009). Our Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund research project addresses this issue by focusing on the characteristics of students enrolled in college baccalaureate programmes, their decision making processes, their reasons for enrolment, and the impact of participation on their identities.

In our study analysis, we applied a theoretical framework developed by Ball, Reay, and David (2002) regarding two ideal types of students in terms of PSE choice: embedded and contingent choosers. Embedded choosers are those students who have a clearly forged pathway to PSE coming out of high school, whereas contingent choosers are those for whom participation in PSE depends upon overcoming one or more barriers. The two ideal types build on Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of ‘cultural capital’ which, in its simplest form, refers to the kinds of symbolic wealth transmitted from middle-and upper-income parents to their children to sustain family status across generations (Bourdieu, 1977). Generally, it is embedded choosers who possess this cultural capital.

The study presents evidence obtained through interviews with 22 baccalaureate students from five Ontario colleges. Preliminary analysis of interview data offers interesting results. For example, 60% of the interviewees were non-traditional students above the age of 25 years. 55% students explained that their decisions to choose college baccalaureates were informed mostly by a ‘word of mouth’ from those in their immediate social circle: friends, colleagues, and sometimes parents. Reasons for choosing a college degree programmes varied, but the most important reasons were location, cost, greater opportunities for coops, the applied nature of programmes, availability of specialised programmes, lower admission requirements, and ample financial aids for students with outstanding academic credentials at high school.

Data also suggest that college baccalaureate students are, more often than not, contingent PSE choosers. This is evident in two of our findings. First is the local considerations for decision making: cost, location, coops, and financial aid are important for college baccalaureate students, in stark contrast with embedded choosers’ considerations such as status and prestige of degrees. Second, 73% of students report no parental involvement in the decision to attend a college baccalaureate programme.

As to student identity, our analysis shows that college baccalaureate students identify more with the field of study than with the college they attend. Students interviewed indicate that when asked how they describe their experience to family, friends, and acquaintances, they prefer to talk about their field of study or the profession they want to enter before they volunteer the name of the institution in which they are undertaking this degree.

Our analysis provide insights into the contributions colleges can make to dealing with the challenge of fulfilling the growing demand for bachelor degrees and the provision of equitable access to baccalaureate education and other access initiatives.


Ball, S. J., Reay, D., & David, M. (2002). Ethnic choosing: Minority ethnic students, social class and higher education choice. Race Ethnicity and Education, 5(4), 333-357. doi:10.1080/1361332022000030879

Bourdieu, P. (1977). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction. In J. Karabel & A. H. Halsey (Eds.), Power and ideology in education (pp. 487-511). New York: Oxford University Press.

Floyd, D. L., Skolnik, M. L., & Walker, K. P. (2005). The community college baccalaureate: Emerging trends and policy issues. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus.

Vision 2000. (1990). Quality and opportunity. The final report of the vision 2000 task force. Toronto: Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

Wheelahan, L., Moodie, G., Billett, S., & Kelly, A. (2009). Higher education in TAFE. Adelaide: National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

Apples to Apples?

— by Diane Simpson

apples and an orangeIn 2002, legislation changed in Ontario allowing public colleges in the province to offer baccalaureate degrees for the first time (Clark, Moran, Skolnik & Trick, 2009). Presently (2017), almost 15,000 students are studying in over 100 college baccalaureate programs at 13 out of 24 public colleges in Ontario. The number of applications for college baccalaureates more than tripled from 2006 to over 36,000 in 2014, demonstrating the demand for this type of programming.  But how do college baccalaureates differ in content and delivery from their university analogues?

To answer this question, we compared the curricula of college baccalaureates with those of cognate degrees offered at universities within Ontario. Five college degree programs from the fields of applied arts, business, health and technology were selected based on enrolment numbers and the number of years that the degree had been offered. Two types of Ontario universities were identified for the analysis of the cognate degrees: those focused on experiential and Work Integrated Learning (WIL), and those with a primary focus on intensive research.[1]

To conduct the curriculum analysis, we drew upon the work of Basil Bernstein, a key English sociologist of education in the last quarter of the 20th century.  In his analysis of curriculum, Bernstein identified two types of knowledge—esoteric knowledge and mundane knowledge. These types of knowledge form two discourses within curriculum—vertical and horizontal.  Vertical discourses describe knowledge that is not segmented by specific contexts, and may thus be considered esoteric, or abstract. In contrast, horizontal discourses are those that embody every day or “mundane” knowledge: that which operates and is understood in specific contexts (Bernstein, 2000; Wheelahan, 2010).

For each of the institutions in the study, we examined how curriculum is linked to theoretical bodies of knowledge versus every day knowledge. The analytical process we used identifies rules that have been created for the selection, sequencing, pacing and evaluation of knowledge, with an emphasis on links with the labour market, and the role of the labour market in the design and the delivery of college baccalaureates.

Based on Bernstein’s identification of two types of knowledge discourses, vertical and horizontal, our analysis of curriculum demonstrates a stronger link between college curriculum and horizontal knowledge. Links to the labour market are evident in curriculum design, program delivery, and eventual employment of graduates. The table below provides an example of the different content of degrees at different institutions. It also shows variations in the focus of cognate degrees in two different universities within the system. There are, therefore, variations between types of institutions, but also variations within institutional types.

Table: Weight of Skill-Based Knowledge Within Curriculum

Applied Theoretical Outside Discipline Co-op/
Work Placement
Seneca 50% 28% 10% 12%
Ryerson 24% 37% 9% 30%
York 20% 45% 35% 0%

The findings of this study may be helpful to students and families. Understanding the different curriculum orientations of programs is essential for prospective students as they compare and contrast the baccalaureate options available to them. Our findings invite further investigation into the ability of the differently oriented baccalaureates to prepare students for the labour market, or further studies at the graduate level. The findings also demonstrate wide variation in cognate bachelor degrees across the system, the students that they serve, and the approaches taken to curriculum.

Despite such lack of uniformity, we continue to evaluate college baccalaureates against those offered by universities as if the latter serves as a singular benchmark. Further, criteria more suitable to evaluating cognate degrees does not acknowledge the distinctive aims of applied degrees. Given the variety of outcomes and purposes served by baccalaureates offered by all kinds of institutions in the province, isn’t it time to stop treating college degrees as poor cousins, and recognize the legitimate role they play in higher education?


Berstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

Clark, I., Moran, G., Skolnik, M. & Trick, D.  (2009).  Academic transformations: The forces reshaping higher education in Ontario. Montreal and Kingston: Queen’s Policy Studies Series, McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. (2014). Strategic mandate agreements. Retrieved from: http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/publications/vision/universities.html.

Muller, J., B. Davies and A. Morais. (2004).  Reading Bernstein, researching Bernstein. London: Routledge Falmer.

Wheelahan, L. (2010) Why knowledge matters in curriculum: A social realist argument. London: Routledge.

End Notes

[1] These distinctions were drawn by the universities themselves, as outlined in Strategic Mandate Agreements submitted to the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (2014) by the province’s post-secondary institutions.

College to University Pathways: What are the Limits to Social Mobility?

by Edmund Adam, M.Ed.

In Ontario, as in many jurisdictions, the expansion of higher education is justified in part as a strategy to promote equity, social inclusion and social mobility. Given that lower-income and first-generation students are more likely to enrol in a college for their first credential, effective transitions to university programs are an important part of Ontario’s strategy to increase equitable access to higher level credentials (Wheelahan et al., 2015).

This strategy appears sound, but also relies on the assumption that all universities are created equal. However, as ranking systems have led to global positional competition among universities for elite status and students (Hazelkorn, 2011; Marginson, 2006), it is increasingly the case that institutional rankings can act as barriers to students seeking credentials in advanced professional and graduate degree levels.

In my master’s degree program at OISE, I posed the question of whether the stratification of universities through various ranking systems might constitute a challenge to equitable access, and thus require more attention on the part of policy makers. To examine the theory in the Ontario provincial context, I used publicly available student enrolment data to compare the extent to which college transfer students were admitted among differently ranked Ontario universities. Drawing on the same university classifications used by Maclean’s rankings, I identified six highly ranked universities according to U15 membership, and fourteen universities that were not U15 members.  The U15 group includes Canada’s leading research universities. These are generally but not exclusively the oldest institutions. These universities house a broad range of graduate programmes and research, as well as professional schools. Ontario has six of these universities. These include, in alphabetical order, McMaster University, Queen’s University, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, University of Western Ontario (now Western University).

Previous literature has proposed that universities in Ontario are not particularly selective at the undergraduate level (Fallis, 2013). However, this study shows that status impacts the selection criteria that universities set for incoming students. Top ranked universities on Maclean’s table (Medical Doctoral) tend to prefer school leavers (that is, student coming directly to university from high school) to transfer students from colleges. The following table shows that Ontario transfer students are less likely to transfer in to research-intensive institutions: those universities that are members of the U15, and more highly recognized in global rankings.

Institution Admitted on the Basis of College Total Bachelor Commencers % Commencers Who Are Transfers
Medical Doctoral 1,146 34,413 3.3%
Comprehensive 2,708 38,788 7%
Primarily Undergraduate 1,432 7,562 19%
Total 5,286 80,763 6.5%

At comprehensive institutions, admission ratios are one transfer student for every 2.1 school leavers (i.e. students entering directing from high school). At medical/doctoral institutions, that ratio climbs to one transfer student for every 5.7 students who are admitted coming out of high school. While the study sample is small and does not pin down the numbers of transfer students from colleges, it does yield a provocative pattern, worthy of further investigation with larger numbers.

Do Transfer Pathways Level the Playing Field?

My findings suggest that while college to university pathways offer opportunities for college students to study for a bachelor’s degree, they may not provide them with much access to the most prestigious universities, thus reinforcing traditional hierarchies in post-secondary education.


Fallis, G. (2013). Further differentiation of the binary system. In J. S. Levin, & S. Kater (Eds.), Understanding community colleges (pp. 245-262). Ney York: Routledge.

Hazelkorn, E. (2011). Rankings and the reshaping of higher education. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK ; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Marginson, S. (2006). Dynamics of national and global competition in higher education. Higher Education, 52(1), 1-39.

Wheelahan, L., G. Moodie, E. Lavinge, J. Yang, A. Brijmohan, & Childs, R. (2015). Pathways to education and work in Ontario and Canada. Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund (OHCRIF). Ontario.

Edmund is a doctoral student in the Department of Leadership, Adult and Higher Education, and a member of the PEW Research Team.

Sleuthing the Occupational Outcomes of Canadian Engineering Graduates

The PEW research group is very pleased to be working with ILead, the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering at the University of Toronto in a joint project investigating the career pathways of engineering graduates. ILead offers curricular and co-curricular learning opportunities that help aspiring engineers to become great team leaders and project managers. Many ILead program participants may be encountering professional working environments for the first time. What are their expectations of the workplace? And what kinds of jobs should the field of engineering be preparing its graduates for?

Helping to answer these questions is where the Pathways to Education and Work team comes in. A PEW project researching Canadian educational and occupational pathways[1] includes focused investigation into how workers and employers understand and use credentials for entry and advancement in different occupational fields. Fields vary in the kinds of entry credentials they require, and the kinds of opportunities that further education affords those who are already working in the field. What can these variations tell us about how to best link education and work? This is a central research question for the PEW team.

PEW and ILead will be working together to examine the post-graduate pathways of undergraduate engineering degree holders. Engineering has a very well established program of professional licensure. Engineering graduates from accredited Canadian programs can be assured that they are eligible to pursue this license without the need to write any technical exams. However, the P.Eng. (Professional Engineer) designation, in addition to a law and ethics exam, critically requires valid Canadian work experience under the supervision of a P.Eng. Many engineers are not obtaining licenses, and many are working on jobs that do not require them to obtain a license. Whether these dynamics are by choice or by necessity are among the questions we’ll be investigating.

For ILead, the project is an opportunity to leverage Statistics Canada’s National Graduate Survey data to inform the future development of engineering curricula and co-curricula. As ILead Assistant Director, Community of Practice, Mike Klassen observes, “if the jobs that engineers are doing are changing, we need to be thinking about and maybe re-thinking how their education prepares them for those jobs.” For the PEW team, this project is a great opportunity to gain insight into one of the occupational fields we’ll be investigating more closely in 2017.

[1] Qualifications: The Link Between Educational and Occupational Pathways and Labour Market Outcomes is funded by SSHRC, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Global Trends in Vocational Education and Training (VET)

OISE’s pathways to education and work team has been commissioned by Education International to prepare a paper, to be entitled “Global Trends in VET: A Framework for Social Justice.”

Education International is a federation of 396 associations and unions which represent some 32.5 million teachers and other employees in all forms of education: early childhood, primary school, secondary school, vocational, university and adult education. Education International represents organisations from 171 countries which are served in 5 regions: Africa, North America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Latin America.

Education International commissioned a paper to respond to the big changes confronting vocational education, many shared with other education sectors and some shared with other social services. Some of these changes seem to be the result of general social and organisational developments, such as the diffusion of new technologies and globalisation. Others seem to impinge more heavily on vocational education, such as the transfer of responsibility from experts such as vocational teachers to employers, and in many jurisdictions, a related privatization of vocational education.

The team has found that vocational education is a higher proportion of all education in upper and upper middle income countries. This may reflect the economic structure of those countries needing a higher proportion of graduates with vocational education. But it may also reflect the fact that vocational education needs more resources than academic and general education. Vocational education needs more expensive equipment and facilities, it needs more practical classes, and more staff per student to protect the safety of students and the equipment they use.

Until recently major donor agencies have under invested in vocational education in lower income countries because they believed the returns to academic education to be higher than for vocational education. But of course returns to education reflect the rewards structured by society and its political and economic elites rather than contributions to economic and social development let alone the intrinsic worth of types of work. And atomistic analyses of returns to education ignore the shared benefits of balanced economic and social development.

There is a particular challenge to develop vocational education for the informal economy. All countries have an informal sector. Employment in the informal economy is around 15% in developed economies and from 50% to 70% in developing countries, and around 90% if agriculture is included. Much work in the informal economy is skilled, but most skills are developed in non formal vocational education or informally such as in traditional apprentices.

While the informal economy is by its nature difficult to reach and is unlikely to have much resources for formal vocational education, its economic and social importance provides a strong case for improving its skills development. There is a major gap in vocational programs and in understanding skills formation in the informal economy and how it may be improved.

Productive Capabilities as a Framework for Vocational Education

Countries’ markedly different economic resources, economic structures, cultures and societies make it very difficult to develop a policy or even goals which reflect the very different circumstances of vocational education without being too general to be informative. The team plans to use Sen and Nussbaum’s concept of human capabilities to develop a concept of productive capabilities.

Productive capabilities are the resources and arrangements of work and the broad knowledge, skills and attributes that individuals need to be productive at work, to progress in their careers, and to participate in decision-making about work. Productive capabilities are located in and concentrate on an intermediate specialised level, the vocational stream. A vocational stream links occupations that share common practices, knowledge, skills and personal attributes.

Productive capabilities rest upon broader social, economic, cultural and technological resources. For example, individuals need to have the language, literacy and mathematical skills for engaging and progressing in study and work. They need to have access to the social and economic resources such as housing, healthcare, transport and childcare that facilitate their participation in study and work and enable their participation in civic society and in their communities. And people need to have the knowledge, skills and attributes required to navigate, negotiate and engage in these aspects of life; the capacity to be skillful at work emerges from broader knowledge, skills and attributes.

The team will argue that developing productive capabilities offers a role for vocational education that is specific to vocational education yet reflects the different contexts in which it is found.

‘Flipped’ conference on post compulsory education

By Gavin Moodie

3 group members participated in the 2nd international conference of the Association for Research in Post-compulsory Education held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.

Harris Manchester College at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Photo by Hmclibrary (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The conference discussed 50 papers over a weekend in a ‘flipped’ format. All presenters were asked to write full papers which were made available to participants 3 weeks before the conference. Presenters were asked to summarise their paper in 15 minutes and 25 minutes was planned for discussion.

Very interesting papers were presented on college level education in Australia, Canada, England, Malaysia and the USA. Group leader Leesa Wheelahan and I presented on the group’s development of a pathways decision tool and framework for Ontario’s Council on Articulation and Transfer. Team member Christine Arnold presented the group’s mapping of Canada’s transition systems compared to transition systems in other liberal market economies. OISE doctoral candidate Tim Brunet analyzed the challenges for the liberal arts in Ontario.

Joel Petrie presented a most engaging paper titled ‘Here be FE dragons… Mapping post compulsory metaphors’. He noted that in 1935 the President of the UK Board of Education stated:

It has, I believe, been an old complaint among many concerned with the technical side of education that that part of education has been the Cinderella. Well, the Government is determined that even if there was any truth in that in the past, there shall be none in the future.

Petrie pointed out that subsequently 5 UK Conservative and Labour ministers announced that they had ‘buried forever’ vocational education’s Cinderella image: Baker (1989), Johnson (2006), Blunkett (2010), Gove (2013) and Hayes (2014).

It is not clear whether the most recent post-16 skills plan for England will achieve its ambitious goals. This will not be helped by the Minister for Skills resigning 5 days after releasing the plan.

Debra Bragg presented the perspectives on applied baccalaureates offered by USA community colleges of 4 groups: community colleges, universities, employers and students.

Robin Simmons closed the conference with a strong presentation on liberal studies in English vocational education. Simmons argued that whilst liberal or general studies was highly variable in both content and quality, at least and under certain circumstances it provided working-class learners the opportunity to locate their experiences of vocational learning within a critical framework which is largely absent today.

The conference allowed plenty of time for discussion, both in formal sessions and informally amongst a small group of experts in the beautiful setting of an Oxford college.

Pathways Decision Tool

Consultation on college-to-university pathways principles and framework: Gaining expert insights on the development of a decision-making tool

By Amanda Brijmohan

This past year, the Pathways to Education and Work (PEW) research group has been funded by the Ontario Council for Articulation and Transfer (ONCAT) to research where effort should be invested in developing and maintaining educational pathways between colleges and universities. Findings from the project suggest that only 23% of universities’ pathway agreements are with colleges within commuting distance of the university, whereas 66% of students who transfer from a college to a university do so from a college within commuting distance of the university. These findings provided the basis for developing a decision-making tool, principles and framework to help policy makers, educational institutions and faculties/departments in guiding college-university pathway development.

Recognizing that the tool could be further enhanced by listening to the expert insights of interest groups, the PEW research group held a policy consultation symposium on April 5th, 2016. Attendees included pathways developers, administrators from both the college and university sectors, as well as policy-makers from multiple levels of government.

After providing the research base for the findings, and introducing the decision-tool, principles and framework, the team posed the following questions to the audience:

  • Overall, is a tool like this helpful? Why or why not?
  • What are your overall thoughts on the tool (content, structure, focus, language etc.)?
  • Are there any specific changes we should make?
  • Is there anything that is missing?
  • What are your suggestions on what we can do to make sure it is used?

Expert feedback was first provided by Dr. David Trick, President of David Trick and Associates, and by Cindy Dundon Hazell, Professor Emeritus at Seneca College. Dr Trick observed that there are 3 dimensions of policy:

  1. strategic
  2. programmatic
  3. operational

Dr Trick argued that governments tended not to be very good at setting strategic goals, and that this limited the effectiveness of its encouragement of student transfer.

Professor Hazell observed that 47% of all transfer students do not complete their first qualification, and that many transfer students do not follow established pathways. Professor Hazell argued for moving from pathways to principles and frameworks supporting student transfer.

Participants also provided feedback on the decision-making tool through a mixture of open forum Q & A, and breakout discussions. In the plenary after the breakout sessions, participants supported the general principles of student transfer and thought that these could be extracted to a document separate from examples and success stories. Some participants sought specific attention to equity groups, and others sought variations in the language used in the decision tool.

The consultation was concluded by closing remarks made by Glenn Craney, Executive Director of ONCAT. Mr Craney welcomed the decision-making tool and supported the team’s collaborative approach to developing it. He supported the different layers of action to bring people together to support student transfer. Mr Craney noted that the tool ties together themes that ONCAT had been considering recently into a comprehensive package.

The team plans to revise the tool and its report in light of these and other feedback comments made through feedback forms, and during breakout discussions throughout the consultation.

Signalling and screening

By Gavin Moodie

Economists developed the concept of signalling and screening to deal with problems such as the market for lemons – cars that turn out to be clunkers rather than high quality cars (peaches).

In economics signalling is what sellers do to indicate that their product or service is of high quality, whereas screening is what buyers do to ensure that they don’t end up with a lemon. We have used the concept of signalling and screening to refer to different roles of qualifications in the labour market.

Sometimes employers use qualifications to signal that graduates have specific knowledge and skills needed for a job they want to fill. Examples are nursing diplomas, engineering degrees and welding certificates. Other times employers use qualifications to screen applicants for general intellectual ability or skills. Examples are high school diplomas and diplomas and degrees in general arts and sciences.

A qualification can be both a signal and a screen. Common examples are law degrees and qualifications in commerce and mathematics. Law firms use a law degree as a signal when hiring 1st year associates but many other employers use law and often other degrees to screen for graduates with high intellectual ability. Some employers use commerce and mathematics qualifications to signal a specific ability, but many employers use these qualifications to screen for applicants with general business or quantitative skills.

We have been annoying economists by using ‘their’ terms ‘signalling’ and ‘screening’ but not carefully defining their non economic meaning we intend. We have also failed to convince some colleagues in postsecondary education who observe that some employers use qualifications concurrently as both a screen and a signal, for example, insisting on recruiting their actuarial graduates from Lady Bracknell University rather than Eliza Doolittle Academy.

So soon I plan to start developing our analysis of employers’ use of qualifications as signals and screens.


Sharing Our Research Agenda

The OISE Pathways to Education and Work research team would like to introduce you to our research, which investigates the nature of pathways within postsecondary education and between postsecondary education and the labour market. Since our formation as a research team, we have been occupied with several substantial research projects, which we’ve outlined below.

1) Pathways to Education and Work in Ontario and Canada

With funding from the Ontario Ministry for Training, Colleges and Universities through the Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund (OHCRIF), our first research project examined the extent to which students stay within the same field of education when they undertake a second postsecondary education qualification, and the links between fields of education and occupations. Using data collected from the 2013 National Graduates Survey (NGS), the project compared similarities and differences between Ontario and all of Canada.

Our results suggest that links between qualifications within the same field of education are weak, as are links between fields of education and occupations. Most students change their field of study when pursuing a second postsecondary education qualification; second field choice also varied depending on whether pathways were within or between colleges and universities. Similarly, the links between fields of education and occupations were quite weak. This varied between fields of education; while the links between fields of education and occupations were weak overall, they were tighter for fields of education comprising regulated occupations, such as Health. We considered the implications for policy, the role and purpose of qualifications, and design principles for pathways.

We have now completed this research and you can browse the full report here.

2) A Decision-Making Tool and Framework for Ontario’s Credit Transfer System

With funding from the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer (ONCAT), one of our current projects investigates the extent to which students use current articulated transfer pathway policies across Ontario’s postsecondary institutions. The project analyzes and compares transfer pathway data sets which includes ONCAT data; student transfer rates from the 2013 NGS; and, the 2013/2014 College Graduate Satisfaction Survey.

Our results suggest that students underuse most articulation agreements between institutions. For students who do transfer, the largest share come from institutions within commuting distance. The findings from this project are informing the development of a ‘decision-making tool’ for Ontario postsecondary institutions. The tool is designed for the following purposes: 1) to support decisions on the nature and type of educational pathways that are needed, 2) whether pathways should be in the same or different fields of education, 3) how to determine priorities in developing pathways, and 4) the types of policies and practices that will support student access, transfer, transition and success.

We continue to refine this research; the first draft of our report has been submitted to ONCAT and we are currently organizing a seminar with critical stakeholders in the province to receive feedback on the decision-making tool.

3) Qualifications: The Link Between Educational and Occupational Pathways and Labour Market Outcomes

With funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada this research investigates the nature of pathways within postsecondary education and between postsecondary education and the labour market. This research builds upon our previous OHCRIF project by scaling up our examination to include more detailed provincial analyses. We are also exploring implications for the purpose and design of qualifications, educational pathways, policy and relationships between educational institutions and social partners (employers, unions, professional and occupational bodies including regulatory authorities, and government).

This research contributes to an emerging theoretical framework on the relation between qualifications and the labour market. It has implications for governments’ and institutions’ policies and practices, for the design and structure of qualifications and educational pathways, for improving connections between qualifications and the labour market, and for building stronger links between education and its social partners in the labour market. It will provide a new framework for considering matches between qualifications, skills and jobs by theorizing the nature and purpose of qualifications, educational pathways and their links to the labour market.

We are currently working on the first two phases of this larger four-phase research project. In the first phase of this project we are developing case studies for each of Canada’s provinces regarding the history and structure of educational pathways, qualifications and labour markets to facilitate national comparisons.

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