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Balancing the Books: Access, Pathways, and Co-Governance as Keys to a New College Funding Formula

Balancing the Books: Access, Pathways, and Co-Governance as Keys to a New College Funding Formula


A submission to the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development’s
consultation on College Funding Model Reform


Next year is the 50th anniversary of Ontario’s network of public colleges. The 24 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology were established to increase access to post-secondary education by addressing the needs of learners not traditionally served by universities and to provide technical and vocational training closely tied to the economic needs of local communities.

There is no doubt that the CAATs have been successful at opening up access to post-secondary education. They serve a student population that is largely from low- to middle-income households: 29 per cent of college applicants in 2014-15 reported household incomes of less than $30,000 and 55 per cent had household incomes of less than $60,000.[1]

The CAATs have also made post-secondary education a reality for students who come from small and medium-sized communities, who would not otherwise have easy access. Approximately 36 per cent of college applicants in 2014 came from communities with fewer than 100,000 people.[2]

But it is clear that the pathways to college have changed since the late 1960s and the occupations that colleges prepare their graduates for have evolved. The original mandate of the CAATs was to educate (largely) high school students who couldn’t, or didn’t want to, attend university. However, this mandate changed significantly as the work world evolved to require more specialized skills and advanced learning outcomes. The CAATs currently deliver more than 3,000 programs in a wide range of areas, including health care and business, biotechnology, engineering, aviation, animation and apprenticeship training. The level and sophistication of the knowledge requirements in the college curriculum have never been higher.

Additionally, with the introduction of the Post-secondary Education Choice and Excellence Act in 2000, the CAATs began offering applied and bachelor’s degree education, and currently deliver approximately 500 degree and post-graduate programs[3]. Despite the evolution of the CAATs’ mandate, systems of academic governance have failed to keep pace – a fact that threatens to undermine the credibility and respect of Ontario’s higher education system internationally.

As a result of concerted government policy and action in the mid-2000s to increase Ontario’s post-secondary participation rates, college enrolment significantly expanded. Full-time equivalent (FTE) enrolment increased by 36 per cent between 2000-01 and 2014-15.[4] As of 2014-15, there were just over 228,000 FTE students enrolled in the CAATs’ post-secondary education programs.[5]

Government funding, however, has not kept up with the colleges’ expansion. At the time of their founding, approximately 75 per cent of the colleges’ operating funds came from government.[6] As of 2014-15, post-secondary education grants from government accounted for 37 per cent of college sector revenue. The addition of employment and training grants and other grants increased the government contribution to 45 per cent of college sector revenue.

Meanwhile, tuition fees for students are skyrocketing.

Domestic and international tuition fees accounted for 35 per cent of college sector revenue in 2014-15, almost equal to the province’s post-secondary education grants. The remaining 20 per cent of the colleges’ revenue is categorized as “other” in the government’s consultation document. This is revenue likely from ancillary fees charged to students and revenue from entrepreneurial activities.[7]

According to Colleges Ontario, real operating grants per student are 18.1 per cent lower than they were at their peak in 2007-08.[8] The situation for funding will not improve any time soon. In fact, it will get worse. Funding will increase by 1.4 per cent from 2016-18 and there will be zero increase in government operating grants in 2018-2019.[9]

In summation, funding is down and tuition is up. This means greater financial pressure on faculty and staff, and more pressure on students. The decline in government funding has been the main driver behind the threats to quality education detailed by Mohawk professor Kevin Mackay in his 2014 report commissioned by OPSEU’s CAAT Academic Divisional Executive.[10] Professor Mackay visited all 24 colleges and spoke to more than 600 faculty members about their concerns. College faculty identified the following issues as inhibiting their ability to deliver quality education: increased class sizes; actual course evaluation and preparation time not being reflected in the CAATs’ system for assigning work to faculty; the steep rise in the ratio of contract faculty to full-time faculty; the contracting out of curriculum developed by CAAT faculty to private colleges; and the lack of academic freedom and intellectual property rights.

With this bleak outlook for funding in mind, OPSEU, which represents 12,000 college faculty in Ontario, is deeply disappointed that the government’s consultations into changes to the college funding model will not discuss the most important issue of all: the need for adequate funding.

According to government figures, 66 per cent of adults in Ontario had a postsecondary credential in 2014, higher than the rates for any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. As well, the government states that seven out of 10 new jobs in Canada will be in high-skilled or management occupations, requiring post-secondary education.[11]

If the government is to take seriously the critical role that postsecondary education and training plays in Ontario’s transition towards a more knowledge-based economy, it must address the urgent crisis of underfunding.

We believe any changes to the college’s funding model must incorporate these six core principles:

  1. Private colleges and subsidiaries should not be allowed to offer credentials using the curriculum, branding and name recognition of public colleges.
  2. All international and entrepreneurial activities must be transparent and properly assessed for their financial, reputational and human rights risks.
  3. An appropriate system of academic co-governance must be implemented, including academic freedom and intellectual property rights, consistent with international standards for higher education.
  4. A minimum ratio of full-time to contract faculty must be established, and the pay and working conditions of contract faculty must be improved.
  5. Community colleges must serve the needs of Ontario’s communities.
  6. The funding formula must protect the integrity of student instructional hours.

Core Principles

1. Private colleges should not be allowed to offer credentials using the curriculum, branding and name recognition of public colleges.

Currently, more than 500 private career colleges churn out fast-track credentials of questionable quality, with little to no emphasis on transferrable skills, or the communication and general education learning outcomes that are crucial for success in Ontario’s fast-paced, knowledge economy. While this is already problematic, at least three CAATs (Cambrian, Lambton and St. Lawrence) have entered into agreements in recent years with for-profit, private colleges (Hanson International, Cestar, and Alpha) in the Greater Toronto Area, whereby the private college delivers the CAAT’s curriculum to international students. The CAAT curriculum was developed using public funds and the benefits from international student enrolment and internationalization should therefore flow into the public college system. The delivery of publicly-funded and developed curriculum by for-profit private colleges does a profound disservice to international students who believe that they are receiving a Cambrian, Lambton or St. Lawrence education, but never experience the benefits of a public education despite paying four times the tuition they would pay if they enrolled at a CAAT. Indeed, when these private colleges use the public college’s brand – for example, Cambrian@Hanson – it consists of something close to advertising fraud. While these arrangements might provide short-term financial benefits through contract fees to Ontario’s colleges, it will do incalculable reputational damage to Ontario’s colleges internationally in the long run. It will also place an innovation chill on the public colleges, leading faculty to become more reluctant to share their cutting-edge applied research and curricular design products for fear that they will literally be sold out from under them.

2. All international and entrepreneurial activities must be transparent and properly assessed for their financial, reputational and human rights risks.

Virtually every CAAT in the province has contracted with government institutions or private agencies abroad to deliver postsecondary education and training. While Algonquin and Niagara’s male-only campuses in Saudi Arabia, and the male-only Centennial training programs, also in Saudi Arabia, are the most notorious examples, a scan of CAAT websites reveals programs existing in at least 16 countries. Unfortunately, it is not easy to get information about these programs. A major Freedom of Information (FOI) request by OPSEU Local 110 (Fanshawe College) to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to discover the extent of the CAATs involvement in overseas and entrepreneurial activities was returned with significant portions blacked out. The results of this FOI demonstrate that Centennial College, despite having major international activities in the Middle East, did not even have an application on file under the Minister’s Binding Directive on Entrepreneurial Activity that covered the scope and nature of the Saudi activities.

Faculty, support staff, students and the public have a right to know what is happening at every college and the types of activities in which Ontario’s publicly funded colleges engage. We don’t. We don’t know who is signing these contracts, the curriculum they are delivering, who is teaching the curriculum, or what the contracts are worth. We need to know the process that is used to assess the financial, reputational and human rights risks associated with these programs. We need to know whether these programs are losing money or making money as long as these colleges continue to receive provincial government funding.

3. An appropriate system of academic co-governance must be implemented, including academic freedom and intellectual property rights, consistent with international standards for higher education.

As Ontario colleges struggle with declining levels of provincial funding, cost-cutting pressures and the pursuit of new revenue streams have come to dominate institutional priorities. This shift in priorities manifests in several ways. First, intensive competition among the colleges for domestic and international students has led to the explosive growth of administrators in marketing and international development departments. Second, the desire to maximize student funding units has led to an overwhelming focus on student "retention," as opposed to academic success. At the same time that institutional resources have been flowing in these directions, they have been moving away from the classroom, and away from the quality of our students' academic experience. Part-time faculty numbers have soared, class sizes have steadily grown, and online learning has increased as a cost-cutting alternative to traditional, face to face instruction. In today's colleges, cost-cutting has directly undermined the quality of education.

Another result of decreasing government funding is that academic decisions are being taken out of the hands of faculty and away from the guiding principles of sound pedagogy and student success. In order to maximize operational efficiency, course evaluation factors are increasingly being dictated to faculty by managers. The constant pressure is to utilize less time-consuming, and hence less-expensive, forms of evaluation. Multiple-choice tests replace short-answer, project and essay evaluations. Students are asked to do, and to learn, less. Retention pressure leads managers to overturn faculty grades, offer "bonus marks" to students who show up for program orientations, and create appeal processes in which a mark of 45 per cent or even 40 per cent can be the basis for an automatic student appeal. Lastly, the retention fixation is also leading to "credit-recovery" strategies that enable students who have failed courses to get the credits they require for graduation in the most quick and convenient way possible. The phenomenon of seven-day "condensed" courses has resulted, offered over strong faculty concerns that such courses lack academic legitimacy and cheapen the very credentials they are supposed to save.

A final effect of financial pressure in the colleges has been to encourage administrators to seek relationships with private colleges, publishers and software companies. In each instance, the responsibility of college faculty to deliver, develop and update curriculum is outsourced. The P3 colleges mentioned in point #1 take curriculum developed by faculty in Ontario public colleges and hand it to a precarious workforce at a private institution. Within public colleges, managers are increasingly using publisher-made "courses in a can" in order to avoid giving faculty time to perform the critical work of developing and updating courses. In addition to publishers, software companies are also creating "independent learning modules" for students, replacing courses that were once developed and delivered by faculty. There is evidence from several colleges that these corporate-designed, "self-education" delivery models are not popular with students, and are leading to higher failure rates and lower quality education.

Given the multiple assaults that academic quality is experiencing in Ontario colleges today, it is imperative that the government use all available policy levers, including the funding model, to ensure that quality is maintained. The only way this can happen is for a co-governance model to be implemented in the colleges. Co-governance includes shared institutional administration via a bi-cameral system, with boards of governors overseeing business and operational matters and academic councils, or senates, overseeing academic matters. This model has worked in Canada's universities, and in the British Columbia community colleges, to ensure that management cost-cutting and revenue-generating imperatives are balanced by strong faculty voices focused on the quality and integrity of post-secondary education.

Co-governance also includes faculty academic freedom and intellectual property protection. In the colleges, academic freedom speaks to a professor's ability to control the fundamental aspects of course design, delivery and evaluation. Academic freedom ensures that each of these components is grounded in the latest and most effective pedagogy, aligned with the most cutting-edge industry standards, and made rigorous concerning the range of skills and content that students receive. Intellectual property protection allows faculty to bring the fullness of their academic and research experience into the classroom, without fear of their creations being sold to private colleges or used to contract their work out to part-time employees.

Co-governance, including bi-cameral institutional administration, academic freedom, and intellectual property protection, is also increasingly important given the Ministry focus on pathways between colleges and universities and in light of the proliferation of collaborative and stand-alone degrees being offered in the colleges. Introducing true co-governance into the colleges ensures that collaborative and stand-alone degrees receive proper academic standing at Canadian universities and at academic institutions world-wide. With formal co-governance in the colleges, Ontario will finally be adhering to the principles set out in the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel, which is the international instrument that sets out the norms and standards for working in educational institutions around the world. This can only increase the international prestige of Ontario college diplomas and degrees, increase their value to students, and ensure that credits, programs and credentials transfer seamlessly from colleges to universities.

4. A minimum ratio of full-time to contract faculty must be established, and the pay and working conditions of contract faculty must be improved.

The CAATs are suffering from a staffing crisis. Part-time faculty (those teaching fewer than seven hours a week), partial-load faculty (those teaching seven to 12 hours a week) and sessional faculty (those teaching 13 hours or more) comprise 70 per cent of faculty teaching in the post-secondary education programs at the CAATs. In reality, this ratio is an underestimate, as it does not include faculty teaching credit courses through Continuing Education, part-time studies, and online, as increasing numbers of students choose new pathways to achieve their educational and career goals.

In addition, these faculty, while performing the same work as full-time professors, earn a fraction of the salary, which is largely unregulated. Consider, for example, that at Centennial College, a contract faculty member teaching full-time (10 half-year courses) over an eight-month academic year would likely earn less than $30,000, depending on their experience level. Clearly on such a poverty wage, they are forced to either work at more than one college, or to hold several jobs, in order to cobble together a living.

The working conditions for these faculty further demonstrate the inherent inequities in the system, and have a clear impact on students. Contract faculty have no job security and don’t accumulate seniority.[12] They have to reapply for their jobs every semester, even if they have been teaching the same course load over many years. Colleges refuse to offer contracts that go beyond a single semester, claiming a need for flexibility in staffing.

There is an obvious human dimension to this crisis for both faculty and students. An entire generation of our brightest and most educated graduates are facing a future with no job prospects in post-secondary education and a wage that will never pay off their student debt. Community colleges were once a place where our own graduates were hired to teach in stable, well-paid employment after gaining direct experience in their fields. Now, as full-time jobs become increasingly scarce, and as the competition for candidates with post-graduate degrees to fulfill Ministry requirements for degree programs becomes more intense, our own graduates are driven out of the college system and that experience is lost.

The over-reliance on contract faculty is a significant threat to quality education. Contract faculty are skilled professors and academic workers; however, they are systemically prevented from committing fully to their roles in any single institution. The impacts of precarious work have been clearly documented in the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) studies, which found that precarious employment negatively affects community, family, and individual health and produces instability.[13] For students, the quality of their experience is directly and negatively affected by the precarious working conditions faced by the vast majority of their professors. The lack of full-time, available faculty means less time for helping students, less time for course and program development and a greater challenge to maintain consistent academic standards: all of which are essential to providing better access and pathways to students in PSE.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, for example, has a 90:10 ratio of full-time to contract faculty and is thriving financially. Similarly, colleges in British Columbia have faculty complement that are the reverse of the Ontario system (70:30 FT:Contract). Minimum complement-of-faculty ratios are tied to student enrollment numbers. This link to funding is transparent and negotiable, and BC colleges are financially healthy. The proactive benefits of system stability – higher quality of both student experience and academic integrity – balance out the initial costs of full-time faculty salaries. Indeed, one immediate effect is the ability to reduce the number of administrative positions necessary to manage the inflated number of temporary faculty. A second benefit is our ability to attract and retain the faculty we want and need for our system to maintain its position as a top choice for students.

5. Community colleges must serve the needs of Ontario’s communities.

CAATs are the lifeblood of small and medium-sized communities, which can’t be replaced by distance education or differentiated programming that would require students to travel long distances to study in their program of choice. As discussed earlier, Ontario colleges serve a disproportionately larger population of lower income students than universities. As a primary gateway to postsecondary education, it is critical that colleges maintain a diverse program and course offering no matter where they are located. The mandate of the colleges must be maintained. The Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002 states that: “The objects of the colleges are to offer a comprehensive program of career-oriented, post-secondary education and training to assist individuals in finding and keeping employment, to meet the needs of employers and the changing work environment and to support the economic and social development of their local and diverse communities.”

6. The funding formula must protect the integrity of student instructional hours.

The student instructional hour is the student’s connection with their teacher and forms the pedagogical basis of quality teaching in every program. It not only defines the quality of experience, it is also quantifies the amount of instruction in all programs.

MTCU’s Enrolment Reporting and Audit Guidelines define a “Student contact hour as … a unit representing one student enrolled in one required hour of instruction. “ (p. 10) However, the same weight and funding is given regardless of the delivery method related to that instruction.

To address funding deficits, an increasing number of colleges are offering self-directed and asynchronous online learning that is built on a model where the student is responsible for their own learning with no built-in supervision. In other words, the professor develops and posts content online, and the student is expected to learn it on their own. These hours of instruction, then, are stripped of the very pedagogical underpinnings that are essential for learning: interactive inquiry, engaged real-time discussion, constructive engagement with peers and professor. In addition, this prevents a professor the ability to evaluate how well a student is learning, at what pace, and under what conditions. There is no opportunity to adjust a course to fit the needs of a particular student or class, and the learning experience is primarily based on passive reception versus active engagement.

Clearly, any adjustment to the funding formula must not continue to incent a disconnection between faculty and students by encouraging the use of online learning simply out of economic “efficiency.” The quality of the student contact hour must count. We strongly believe that every student instructional hour must have an accompanying faculty member assigned to support and nurture the student’s development.


As the frontline professionals who teach more than 200,000 students in Ontario each year, college faculty bring a unique perspective to the history, current challenges and future needs of the CAATs.

We are deeply committed to the colleges’ original mandate of expanded access to postsecondary education that is responsive to industry needs and the economic development goals of Ontario’s regions. We are proud of our role in producing graduates from diverse backgrounds and communities. We believe in the importance of delivering comprehensive, career-oriented post-secondary education that helps students and communities. We know a college education means more than mastering employment skills. A college education needs to produce graduates who can think critically, creatively and innovatively so they can participate fully in a healthy democracy.

We work in a system that is in constant change as the CAATs’ mandate shifts to reflect the changing priorities of governments and fluctuating economic conditions. We hope we have made it clear in this submission that a college education today takes in a far wider range of training, occupational and academic needs than it did nearly 50 years ago when the CAATs were founded.

In this submission, we have outlined how cost-cutting pressures are leading to a reduction of quality and standards. We have pointed out that the drive to cut costs has ushered in an era of increasing privatization and commodification of a crucial public good. We urge the government to adopt our six core principles to stop the decline in quality and to adequately fund our 24 CAATs so they can deliver accessible, high quality postsecondary education to Ontario students.


[1] Colleges Ontario. Student and Graduate Profiles Environmental Scan 2015. Rep. Toronto: Colleges Ontario, 2015. Web.

[2] Ibid.

[4] Colleges Ontario. College Resources Environmental Scan 2015. Rep. Toronto: Colleges Canada, 2015. Web

[5] Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. Enrolment Headcounts. Email to author. June 2016

[6] Mackay, Kevin, Ontario Public Service Employees Union. College Faculty (CAAT-A) Report on Education in Ontario Colleges. Rep. 1st ed. Toronto: Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 2014. Web.

[7] Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. College Funding Model Reform Consultation Paper. May 2016. Web

[8] Colleges Ontario. College Resources Environmental Scan 2015. Rep. Toronto: Colleges Canada, 2015. Web

[9] Ministry of Training,Colleges and Universities. Multi-Year Outlook for Operating Grants to Universities and Colleges. Ministry handout at Budget Lock-up. Toronto: March 2016.

[10] Mackay, Kevin, Ontario Public Service Employees Union. College Faculty (CAAT-A) Report on Education in Ontario Colleges. Rep. 1st ed. Toronto: Ontario Public Service Employees Union, 2014. Web.

[11] Sousa, Charles. 2016 Ontario Budget. Jobs for today and Tomorrow. Budget Papers. Queen’s Printer. Toronto: 2016. Web

[12] While partial-load faculty do accumulate seniority, they do so at an incredibly slow rate. Partial-load employees earn ½ month’s credit for each calendar month in which they teach 30 hours or more (Art. 26.10 C). This means that it can take several years to earn one-year of seniority.

[13] https://pepsouwt.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/precarity-penalty-summary_final-hires_trimmed.pdf