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Serge Buy is CEO, National Association of Career Colleges. Sharon Maloney is CEO, Career Colleges Ontario

A recent Globe and Mail report questioned whether students attending regulated career colleges should be entitled to the same financial aid as students in public colleges. It's a debate worthy of some additional perspective.

That perspective involves choice. As Canadians, we have choices between public and private services for health care, daycare and education. We are advocates for choice in the post-secondary education system. Ontario enjoys a vigorous regulated career college sector that has existed since the early 1800s and graduates 70,000 students annually at a minimal cost to taxpayers.

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There are clear reasons why individuals choose a regulated career college. It's not because it's the only program they can enter. Regulated career colleges are, in fact, uniquely positioned to be flexible and innovative in delivering programs for students that meet the needs of employers.

Our colleges can accommodate compressed program lengths, continuous enrolment, flexible scheduling, small class sizes and more hands-on training. Choice in any sector is a good thing, and post-secondary education should be no exception.

Some of our public education colleagues have been open to collaboration in working towards a common goal: students. This has resulted in articulation agreements signed between universities and community colleges on one side, and regulated career colleges on the other.

Public institutions are not without challenges. They have their own issues such as declining enrolment and high reliance on the public purse. Like all of us, they must be held to a high account in ensuring quality programs. Like all of us, they are working to ensure that students receive the skills and training that they need to be successful and find employment.

Public and private colleges share more comparable results than has to date been reported.

Regulated career colleges in Ontario have a 77.2-per-cent graduation rate. So for every 100 students, 77 graduate. Of those 77 students, 71.2 per cent find employment six months after graduation.

How does that stack up?

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Based on data from the province, 66.7 per cent of students graduate from Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology. Of the roughly 67 of every 100 students who graduate at public institutions, 83.4 per cent are employed post-graduation.

Overall, that means that 55.6 per cent of students from public institutions graduate and are employed within six months. The result for regulated career colleges in Ontario is 55 per cent.

The challenges and results are similar. That is partially why we were so disappointed in recent comments by Colleges Ontario, where they suggested that our students shouldn't have access to financial aid.

We don't agree. Students are students regardless of the class of the institution. They choose programs that offer them training for a chosen career and allow them to be more productive members of society.

Recent improvements to the Ontario Student Grant further enable choice for students in this province. From our specific perspective, access to financial aid will particularly help mature students from low-income families to afford the training that they need. For some additional context, career college students account for about 4 per cent of financial assistance allocated in Ontario.

Much is being made of the new report released by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities on career colleges that underpinned The Globe's report. This was the pilot year for the provincial survey of regulated career colleges. So everything being referred to in the article is new: the report, the questions and the thresholds.

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The survey is a good thing. It is important that our schools adhere to the highest of regulatory standards and also meet key performance criteria. But we also want to have confidence in the results and ensure that more graduates can be reached for the sample size and be included in the survey. We look forward to working with the government in improving the methodology for future years.

Regulated career colleges play an important role in Ontario and Canada. Accountability is indeed important, and it should be for all colleges, including those funded by taxpayers. Most importantly, all students should continue to have the choice to access the education they want and the financial aid that they may need.

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