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College education best road to employment

  By TRALEE PEARCE, Globe and Mail

High demand for college diplomas, and the decreasing stigma attached to them, is shifting the balance of higher education. As the bachelor's degree loses its lustre, the college system has been prepping for its close-up. One of its biggest boosters: university graduates who are treating colleges and polytechnics as de facto finishing schools.

"Our biggest area of growth is post-university students," said James Knight, the president of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. At Toronto's Humber College last fall, for instance, 31 per cent of the incoming students had a degree or some postsecondary studies. At the B.C. Institute of Technology, 20 per cent of incoming students hold undergraduate degrees; an additional 30 per cent have some postsecondary education but no degree or credential.

Among the post-university students is Christopher Carrique, whose liberal arts degree would have paved the way to a career a generation ago, as it did for his father, who immediately landed a job after taking a BA in economics. Research suggests that in the coming years, college graduates will be in demand over university graduates by a ratio of 6 to 1. The reason: Demographics and a shifting economy. Aging baby boomers will be vacating jobs in droves in the coming years and the economy is increasingly becoming knowledge-based.

Students and educators alike are realizing that what has worked for decades for tradesmen is now working for those who aspire to work in a knowledge economy.

"Colleges are developing a more vital profile in the Canadian landscape and are moving from being the
second cousin to the universities to being peers in providing knowledge and training that is required by the work force," said Marilyn Luscombe, the president of New Brunswick Community College, adding that the key is "reaching back much earlier than Grade 12."

…more Canadians hold community college degrees, diplomas or certifications than university degrees (31 per cent versus 21 per cent) and contribute to Canada's spot at the top of the OECD pile when it comes to the number of citizens with postsecondary education (49 per cent in 2008).

"Whether we like it or not, we have shifted from the model of 1920 to a different model that has education as increasingly more job related," said education consultant Rick Miner, who wrote a widely-circulated report called People Without Jobs, Jobs Without People last year.

Some experts say a mash-up of the university and college experiences could eventually lead to a kind of hybrid degree. Students could, say, spend two years reading Keats and Locke, reaping the benefits of a bachelor degree, then spend the next two years studying a job-related field.


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