The recent shutdown of 13 Everest College campuses in Ontario by the provincial government raises questions about the effectiveness of regulations intended to protect students at private colleges.
It was known for some time that Everest College’s US parent company was facing both financial issues and investigations for falsifying data on job placements, grades and attendance. When Canadian Press obtained information on complaints against private colleges in Ontario through freedom of information legislation, 36 per cent were about Everest College.
Yet, in spite of these problems, Everest College was able to continue operating until a sudden shut down became unavoidable.
Ontario’s Auditor General has already raised concerns about the level of oversight for private colleges. In the 2011 Auditor General’s report, it was pointed out that even though there were serious concerns about 180 campuses, only 30 were inspected. Steps taken by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities since then provide little grounds for optimism. It can still take up to three months before high risk campuses are inspected, while for medium risk ones it can take up to two years.
For students and the public this is worrying. Much of the income private colleges receive comes from student loans and other public funding. The public funding private colleges receive will increase as the federal government implements its Canada Job Grant program. When private colleges fail to deliver the education or training they promised, students are left with loans that will be difficult for them to ever repay.
As with other privatized services, proper oversight of private colleges comes at a cost. Ensuring colleges are inspected in a timely fashion, and that complaints from students receive a thorough response, would require more staff and resources assigned to monitoring private colleges. The larger question this raises is whether the funds proper enforcement requires would be better spent on improving the public community college system so students are not forced to turn to private colleges for jobs training.