More students are suing their colleges

When one institution grants degrees and another regulates accreditation, things are going to get messy


Unemployed students are in the news again. This they’re from the International Business Management Program at George Brown College, and they claim the program isn’t properly recognized and hasn’t qualified them for jobs. Hence the lawsuit. Here’s the Star’s article on the story:

Two former students, who took the International Business Management program at Toronto’s George Brown College, claim it didn’t confer three important industry designations it had promised.

Now, this claim isn’t quite accurate. It either reflects a gross over-simplification of the situation by the students at hand or by the Star itself. Most likely the Star simply repeated their claims verbatim rather than try to untangle the details. I think we can do better.

So here’s the program at George Brown. They claim that the program “can also prepare students to pursue three industry designations / certifications in addition to the George Brown College Graduate Certificate if they choose to do so.” Now there’s some waffle words for you. “Preparation” can mean a lot of things, and the implication that students “choose” (or not) to pursue these additional certificates should send up some red flags. Obviously there aren’t any promises made here.

Now with regards to the requirements of these three designations, here’s what a bit of research has uncovered:

So what does this tell us, aside from the fact that the Star has less time to browse the Internet than I do? The preparation required for professional designations varies considerably, from place to place. It’s just about inevitable that it will. These professional bodies aren’t standardized in any meaningful way. These are voluntary bodies that stamp their seals of approval on students’ qualifications in much the same way that Fair Trade stamps their seal on chocolate bars. The various certifications may have some value and recognition, but expecting a standardized regime is a bit much.

It’s no wonder that students are frustrated, when they’re left to wade through this muck. Now I’ll gladly assign a large share of blame to the students as well. These are university graduates, enrolled in postgraduate college programs, who claim they were unable to learn in all that time what would be required to enter their chosen careers. And here I’ve gone and researched three different organizations in an hour. It wasn’t hard. But they are right to point fingers at the glaring disconnect between the program of study they take in college and the requirements of the relevant professional association(s) who regulate the credentials they may or may not need to actually work in their fields.

What all of this adds up to is simply a widespread institutional problem that isn’t going away any time soon. This isn’t really George Brown’s fault. They can’t control the requirements of the relevant professional bodies. And we haven’t even discussed the actual standing of these bodies and qualifications. Please don’t get the sense that all of these designations and certifications carry the same importance as being a registered nurse. They don’t. These designations may be sought by employers. They may even become de facto requirements for employment. But that’s only a function of whatever credibility and standing the relevant association can attract. Just like Fair Trade, it’s only meaningful to the extent that people care. And that, again, is a variable beyond the control of colleges.

What a mess eh? The only reasonable conclusion, as always, is buyer beware. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have this confusion of college diplomas and professional certifications and employment requirements that don’t mesh perfectly. But we don’t live in a perfect world and there are limits beyond which the government simply can’t police the situation and colleges can’t make firm guarantees. So students must do some research on their own and be sure of what they’re getting for their time and tuition. It’s natural to want to blame someone, when things go wrong, but going into the situation students are still in the best position to protect themselves.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.


More students are suing their colleges

  1. A piece of advice I would like to give to anyone applying for anything education related would be to follow what it says on paper/school website versus what people say out of their mouths, including faculty, administration etc. On paper, it’s considered “official” whereas you will find that many of those involved in a particular program do not know much about anything outside their own department/curriculum and will sometimes even give answers that contradict what it says on paper, leading to massive confusion and an unresolvable debate on the student’s end if a crisis is to arise. Paper policies goes through draft after draft after draft before it’s released, showcasing complex and thorough wording whereas people in faculty, administrative or even senior executives of a department or program may simply reiterate a first draft or in many cases, oversimply the thorough wording.

    I find the biggest mistakes students make, potential, current, past or otherwise is only asking their professors/instructors for program advice based on how much they like the person. Many of the faculty employed are not only part-time but thrust into teaching a curriculum that weren’t designed by them and any advice they give you can be seriously misleading. In the case of the students from George Brown, I won’t be surprised if a bunch of their instructors told them that completion of this program gives them their 3 designations. Why the students didn’t bother verifying the answer, I don’t know but faculty do give out misleading or sometimes even completely wrong answers.

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