What many Canadians may not realize is that private career colleges in this country get government funding through provincial and federal student aid programs. And, just as with public institutions, when there are high student loan default rates, it is the taxpayer who ends up paying. In BC, at the moment, the Vancouver Sun recently reported that, the BC government says it intends to crack down on those private colleges with the highest student loan default rates. (Here, for example, is a September 2012 related article.)
Now, while that tough-on-the-private- colleges messaging sounds good, it is, in fact, meaningless. Why? Because the fault can be spread around, including to the very government who wants to crack down.
For instance, staff at career colleges should do extensive labour market research before they submit a program to a provincial government for approval. Then, before that provincial government approves a career program, they should have verified that the market research was accurate.
Then, there is the adult student, who for whatever reason, decides not to pay back his or her student loans. Is it because they are slackers and irresponsible? Or, is it because the market research done didn’t reflect reality on the ground with the result that because they couldn’t find a job in their chosen field, there is no money available for student loan payments.
Of course, I am not letting students off the hook. They too have a responsibility to do labour market research and therein lies the point of this article. Students should do their own labour market research, particularly if they plan to attend a private career college, although the same principles apply to public institutions as well. Remember, however, when it comes to private colleges, it’s “buyer beware.”