Post-secondary education includes university and technical training
93 per cent of Calgarians consider access to post-secondary education an important factor in addressing Alberta’s labour shortage, according to a recent survey commissioned by DeVry Institute of Technology in Calgary.
Increasing access to post-econdary education may be among the greatest challenges facing the province. The Alberta Coalition for Action on Labour is forecasting a shortage of 114,000 workers over the next decade, raising issues among Alberta employers who need qualified workers to fill vacant positions.
“One of the biggest concerns we’re hearing from our members right now is the shortage of qualified employees,” said Ben Brunnen, Calgary Chamber of Commerce director of policy and government affairs and chief economist.
“Post-secondary education is key in addressing the labour shortage, and institutions need to provide programs that train students adequately and allow them to enter the workforce quickly.”
The survey findings illustrate three key areas for concern regarding access to post-secondary education: capacity, scheduling options and affordability.
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Four in five Calgarians surveyed agree that Calgary’s public post-secondary institutions have the capacity to educate students and help Alberta address the looming labour shortage. In reality, Alberta’s post-secondary institutions are lacking the capacity to serve all qualified applicants. According to the Government of Alberta’s Campus Alberta Planning Resource, in 2009 Alberta’s post-secondary institutions turned away 3,680 applicants who met the minimum qualification requirements. This number grew 68 per cent to 6,179 in 2010.
“Post-secondary institutions need to adapt to a climate where there is an increasing demand for educated employees,” said DeVry President Ranil Herath. “Programs that increase access to different levels of higher education and create clear pathways toward earning bachelor’s degrees are critical to our economy.”
According to the survey, 88 per cent of Calgarians agree that diploma programs are an effective way for students to enter the workforce faster, with 26 per cent mentioning fast certification or condensed courses as reasons for students attending private post-secondary institutions.
Recently, DeVry announced that it will be offering a new Diploma in Business Administration program, specifically designed to address the current and projected labour shortages. Classes for DeVry’s new diploma program begin in September and will give students the ability to earn a diploma in 10 months, allowing them to enter the workforce faster than if they completed a one or two year diploma program. Additionally, courses from DeVry’s diploma program have been granted approval for credit transferability to bachelor’s degree programs at multiple Alberta post-secondary institutions.
The survey’s findings indicate that an offering of more flexible course scheduling options by Calgary institutions would have a noticeable positive effect on post-secondary enrollment. “Lack of Flexibility” accounted for 20 per cent of responses when asked what prevents students most from accessing post-secondary education.
“If I had chosen a traditional path through school, I’d likely still be working my way through the program,” says IHS Product Specialist German Aravena, who graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems from DeVry. “Having the option to complete courses onsite and online allowed me to earn my degree in a manageable time period.”
Perceptions regarding the ability of Alberta institutions to provide scheduling flexibility are low. Only 10 per cent of Calgarians surveyed agree strongly that Calgary’s post-secondary institutions provide the opportunity to balance education and work commitments. And only 13 per cent agree strongly that local institutions provide sufficient flexibility with online programs and course scheduling.
Though Calgarians believe post-secondary education is important towards addressing the labour shortage, 51 per cent feel that it is not affordable and 68 per cent believe the cost of education is what prevents students from enrolling in programs.
“If we are to address this large number of students who forego higher education simply due to tuition being out of their reach, provincial institutions need to explore every way possible to lower the actual cost per student,” says Herath.
Herath cites as an example DeVry’s recent simplification of its tuition structure, opting to replace a multi-tiered tuition that benefitted primarily full-time students for a flat per-credit rate which resulted in a reduction in tuition for the majority of DeVry’s students. Also, DeVry recently began offering a new bursary of up to $1,700 per semester that can close the gap between the cost of tuition and all financial aid sources that otherwise might make higher education unattainable.
While the survey spotlighted some discrepancies between perception and reality regarding Calgarian opinions of Alberta’s post-secondary landscape, the findings also point to some possible solutions.
“Solving Alberta’s current and projected labour shortages will require a comprehensive approach, inclusive of both public and private post-secondary institutions joining together to make higher education more accessible for our citizens,” says Brunnen. “In my opinion, it’s the only way for Alberta to come out on top.”