OACC Gives Evidence at Queen's Park


The OACC was invited to speak during the Legislative Committee hearings regarding the Budget Bill at Queen’s Park on June 11, 2012.

OACC Director Frank Gerencser spoke on behalf of the association and addressed issues around the Second Career program, the Ontario Tuition Grant, strengthening apprenticeships, and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities three-year target in cost reductions of $121 million. Career college student Sherika Alexander provided compelling evidence in support of the Second Career program by sharing her story about how the funding has helped her get back on her feet.

Below is the Hansard transcript of OACC’s testimony and MPP questions that followed. For a link to the transcript on the Ontario Legislative Assembly website, please click here.

 

ONTARIO ASSOCIATION OF CAREER COLLEGES

The Chair (Mr. Bob Delaney): Our next presentation is from the Ontario Association of Career Colleges. Good morning again.

Mr. Frank Gerencser: Good morning.

The Chair (Mr. Bob Delaney): You’ll have 10 minutes to make your presentation this morning, followed by up to five minutes of questioning. This rotation, the questioning will come from the government side. Please begin by stating your name for Hansard and proceed.

Mr. Frank Gerencser: Thank you, Bob. I look forward to finding some good fishing tips from Terry about where I should actually invest some of my money.

Good morning. My name is Frank Gerencser. I’m a director on the board of the Ontario Association of Career Colleges. With me is Sherika Alexander, a student of Access Business College, funded by the Second Career program and graduating this Friday, I’ve just learned. We represent the Ontario Association of Career Colleges.

Career colleges are an important part of Ontario’s educational landscape and have been for over 140 years. OACC is a non-profit organization that was established in 1973 to provide a voice for private career colleges and to promote a healthy private career college sector. The OACC is a partner with the National Association of Career Colleges, which was established in 1896.

There are over 600 private career colleges in Ontario—I would say that there are several in each and every one of your ridings—which train approximately 65,000 students each year. The 270 OACC member colleges deliver high-quality education and represent approximately two thirds of all the students in career colleges in Ontario.

Career college students have a graduation rate of 80%, and approximately 80% of all career college graduates are employed within six months of graduation. The career college sector in Ontario employs 12,000 people and, since this is a revenue committee, pays $94 million in taxes annually. This does not include the income taxes paid by staff or by the working graduates who go to our schools.

Career colleges receive no direct government funding, although students attending career colleges access a variety of government funding programs such as OSAP, Second Career and WSIB retraining programs. Unlike community colleges, our capital costs for infrastructure and equipment are funded from operating revenue, not from grants.

Today, I would like to speak about four items that are included in the budget: the Second Career program; the Ontario tuition grant; strengthening apprenticeships; and MTCU’s three-year target in cost reductions to $121 million.

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I’d like to invite Sherika Alexander, who is a student at Access Business College, to speak about her experience with the Second Career program. Sherika?

Ms. Sherika Alexander: Good morning, everyone. My name is Sherika Alexander. I’m a single mother of four kids and also two siblings I took from my mum who I’m legally responsible for.

After losing my job, it became very stressful in my life. I got help from EI for one year. With little or no income, it’s very hard to process and position yourself. With no income and no job, it landed me in the shelter with my four kids and my two siblings. Because I could not pay my rent or buy food, I started stressing a lot, with the result that I ended up with high blood pleasure; I got sick. I found out I have thyroids, which now I’m on lifetime medications for. Last year, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and when I was about to go into surgery, they ran some other tests and it was gone, which is a good thing. Because of all that I went through, I’ve always wanted to go to school. I got help from Second Career, which I’m very thankful for because I couldn’t pay it off on my own. Now I’m in college doing a business course. This helped me and also it will help my kids in the future.

As I always say, if I can do it with four kids and two siblings, anyone can do it. There shouldn’t be any stress in pushing yourself to get up and do it. We should just get up and do it, because it’s something that will help in the long run.

I chose Access college because, after explaining my situation, they helped me a lot, and I applied for the Second Career, for which, as I said before, I’m very thankful, because I couldn’t afford anything on my own. There’s no need to push yourself. You just get up and get, because it pays off in the long run.

I just want to thank the OACC and the government for putting Second Career in place, because it not only helped me, it helps a lot of people out there. Thank you.

Mr. Frank Gerencser: Thank you, Sherika. Based on the success from Sherika and thousands of other students, we support the government’s commitment to maintaining funding of $251 million in 2012-13, as outlined in the budget.

The Second Career program, however, is not perfect. There are some errors in the Second Career policies that deny students from being able to take their first choice. They effectively force them to go to a community college program, even though their first choice would be a career college where there would be more students like them. Some community colleges are now offering similar programs in the same accelerated format as career colleges, with full funding, up to $28,000, from the Second Career program, while students are limited to a $10,000 tuition cap at career colleges. Students are being denied a choice in their education, even though they would prefer the smaller, more supportive environment offered by career colleges.

We recommend that the tuition cap be raised and applied universally, both to community colleges and career colleges. Let the students choose what they feel is the right school for them. Overall, however, the Second Career program is very valuable. It works. It puts Ontarians back to work, helping Ontarians re-enter the workforce in new careers.

The second point is the Ontario tuition grant. The new Ontario tuition grant is currently available only to students who attend publicly funded institutions. We don’t believe that students who choose a career college should be disadvantaged from this opportunity to receive this grant. We look forward to working with MTCU to ensure that all students attending OSAP-eligible institutions are able to access the Ontario tuition grant.

Third, strengthening apprenticeships: The budget states that measures will be taken to redesign the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program and the pre-apprenticeship program to enhance their effectiveness. There is currently a great deal of high-quality pre-apprenticeship training that is being conducted at career colleges that is valued by the employers but not recognized by the current apprenticeship system. We support initiatives to enhance the effectiveness of the apprenticeship pathways and look forward to working with MTCU and the Ontario College of Trades to ensure that training completed at career colleges is recognized by the apprenticeship system so students do not have to re-do training that they’ve already completed.

And last, MTCU cost reductions of $121 million over three years: We recognize the fiscal constraints of the government and look forward to working with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to assist them in meeting the budget target savings of $121 million through efficiency enhancements, while ensuring the highest quality of education for students.

You may not know this, but the total cost to the taxpayer of a career college graduate is less than $4,000, whereas the total cost to the taxpayer of each community college graduate is over $30,000. Career colleges deliver a high-quality education in an efficient manner that helps Ontarians get jobs. Our programs are rated equal when you look at things like the Law Society of Upper Canada, where the programs are accredited whether public or private. Overall, taxpayers save $26,000 for every student that’s trained in a career college.

The career colleges sector can assist the government in the goal to enhance productivity, to support efficiency and support quality education for students. We look forward to working with MTCU to achieve this goal. We also look forward to working with MTCU to reduce the unnecessary red tape within the ministry to allow career colleges to get more Ontarians back to work in this fast-changing economy.

Thank you very much for your time. OACC would be pleased to discuss the budget further in the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. We look forward to working in partnership to ensure that the education of the changing workforce is met.

I’d like to thank those of you who were able to make it to our Queen’s Park day last month. I really appreciated that. And if anyone would like to see a career college, I’d be pleased to arrange a private tour for you over the summer when you’re back in your riding.

The Chair (Mr. Bob Delaney): Thank you, Frank. Mr. Naqvi.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Frank, thank you for your presentation. I want to also thank Sherika for your presentation and your courage in terms of going back to school and studying for a new career. I really appreciate you doing that.

I was recently at a graduation ceremony in my riding of Ottawa Centre, for Willis College, which has been operating for some time, and there were a lot of stories of courage like yours. There was a lady, 65 years old, who’s gone back to college and was just back engaged in the community, and it was great to see that.

I wanted to ask either Frank or Sherika about the Second Career program. By all estimates, would you agree that it’s been a big success in terms of helping people reintegrate back into the workforce?

Mr. Frank Gerencser: On a big picture, I would absolutely say it’s been a big success. There’s a very high placement rate that’s over there, a very high percentage of the students who are finding work. I don’t believe that the Second Career program is a partisan issue at all. I think this is something that all of us, all Ontarians and all parties, should be able to support. I think it’s an excellent program. Sherika is a testimony to it in her own personal case.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Do you agree with the changes that were made? I think there’s been now sort of two versions. There was the first version of the Second Career program that came out and there was what I call the 2.0 version that came out, where we made some more changes and tried to accommodate more people who could participate in terms of criteria in the program. Were those in the right direction?

Mr. Frank Gerencser: They’re in the right direction, but there are a few parts that are misguided. Right now, if you’re an individual and you want to be funded through Second Career, you have to go to a community college to explore it, which is fair so that you understand both sides of what’s there. But many people are being strong-armed into going there and the funding cap is biasing the system.

A specific example: Conestoga College has an $18,000 networking program, which I would assume is a cost-recovery program, which says that $18,000 is the real cost of running a full-time, one-year, high-intensity networking program. We offer a similar program in a similar period of time and have done for a dozen years, except students can only get $10,000, so they have to get a shorter program through us. That’s unfair. Students feel they have no choice and they’re being strong-armed into going to a community college.

As I pointed out earlier, it’s $26,000 in savings for every student who goes to a career college versus a community college. You could save money for your taxes and your grant money and your budget by simply letting the students choose. I don’t say force them to privates, but don’t force them to publics either.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Okay. Those are good suggestions.

I also wanted to just quickly ask you—one of the stated policy goals that the government is working towards is having one of the highest post-secondary education attainment rates. Any specific recommendation from the perspective of career colleges as to how we can meet that stated policy goal?

Mr. Frank Gerencser: There are many different facets of what we’ve got. I have an 18- and a 19-year-old in post-secondary as well, so I’m personally involved in the whole system that’s here. The biggest thing you can do is unleash us. There are so many good schools.

You saw Rima in Ottawa at her graduation. She’s been in business for 120 years. She’s had it for about 20 years herself. There are so many great stories. I’m not sure how many of you have made it to a graduation. You really should; we’ll invite you. By allowing career colleges to create new programs and reduce the red tape so that we can get new programs faster—the economy is changing faster than a top can spin. We need to be able to react to those, and we can, and create the people to fill the new jobs that are needed right now. Work with us, unleash us, support us and we’ll work with you.

Mr. Yasir Naqvi: Great. Thank you very much for your time.

Sherika, it was nice to meet you and thank you for coming and presenting.

Ms. Sherika Alexander: Thank you.

Mr. Frank Gerencser: Thanks for your time, everybody.


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