Post-secondary education is a journey, and a successful journey needs a good path. Canada's community colleges are paths offering a huge choice of possible stops along your way. With programs ranging from full four-year specialized bachelor's degrees, applied degrees, two-year associate's degrees, diplomas, certificates, pre-professional and university-transfer programs, Canada's community colleges can give you the knowledge and experience you're looking for or be just the beginning of your exploration.
Definition: What are community colleges? They are government-regulated post-secondary institutions rooted in the communities they serve. Often, they are the main community source for post-secondary education and career skill updating. Offering mostly 1- to 2-year diplomas and certificates--but also associate's and specialized bachelor's degrees--community colleges and institutes typically provide a more job-related curriculum than universities. Programs might include employment-related programs such as apprenticeship, but also range from health care and business to technology and the creative arts. The college itself may be a general education school offering a variety of programs in different fields; it might be part of a school's network of campuses; or it may be a single field-, industry- or culture-specific college (for example, college of forestry, art and design, justice and public safety, or Native studies). Unlike private career colleges, community colleges receive 45% to 80% of their funding from provincial or territorial governments, with the remainder coming from student fees and private and public industry contracts. Canada's education system is governed provincially, and the structure of the community college systems may differ from province to province. For example, in Ontario there are two types of community colleges: Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology and Institutes of Technology and Advanced Learning. There are, however, some private community colleges, such as those which are faith-based. Christian colleges in Canada date back to the 19th century, while the secular community college system was founded in the 1960's.
Demographics: According to recent estimates, community colleges and institutes represent around 900,000 full-time and 1.5 million part-time learners. With over 900 campuses across the country in programs such as health, business, technology, trades, academic upgrading, applied and creative arts, social services, hospitality and university preparation, community colleges attract a diverse student body. Many students apply directly from high school to either get a credential that will lead to a career or to fulfill university pre-requisites. In addition, university graduates might attend college upon completion of their degree in order to acquire the specific practical skills needed for employment. As a result, the average age of full-time community college and institute students is between 26 and 28. This means you share your classes with students from all walks of life at different stages of their educational journeys, which can help you get information and insight you might not expect or be able to get elsewhere.
Delivery: What else do you get from community college? Most community colleges offer 1- or 2-year diploma and certificate programs along with 2-year associate's degrees. However, some colleges also grant 3- or 4-year bachelor's degrees, such as the Bachelor of Technology, Bachelor of Applied Arts or Applied Science. Some Christian colleges offer four-year Bachelor of Arts or Science degrees as well as specialty degrees such as Bachelor of Theology, Ministry, Religious Education or Biblical Studies. In general, community colleges offer both academic courses in the arts and sciences and specialized career training.
The credentials granted by community colleges take, on average, less time than university degrees. Community college programs are also generally more affordable, although whether the school is privately or publicly run may affect the tuition costs. Admission requirements for Canadian community colleges can range from "open admission" (requiring only a high school diploma or GED, or simply that you be over the age of 18) to more specific academic requirements. Community colleges can also be stepping-stones into universities: a community college will often have what's called an "articulation" agreement with a neighbouring university. Articulation means the university agrees to recognize the community college's courses as credit towards a university degree. Therefore, if you want to transfer from a community college to a university, you may be able to carry-over the credits you've already earned from the college.
Different and distinctive:
Community colleges are dynamic institutions that adapt to meet the economic and social needs of the communities they serve. Part of their uniqueness lies in their combination of high quality and comprehensive academics with employer-centred programs and industry connections. Compared to universities, community colleges and institutes have smaller classes, more options for off-campus course delivery, a greater ratio of laboratory space to classroom space, a more interactive teaching style, more co-op and practicum opportunities and more inclusive admissions requirements.
Deciding: So how will you decide? First you have to decide what you're interested in, then you have to find a school that offers it. Other factors like how long you want to spend in school, scholarships, tuition costs, distance from home etc., may also be factors. Campus Starter's database of community colleges in Canada can help get you started. Once you've spotted a school that seems to suit your interest, check out their website. The site will tell you how to order a catalogue and who to call. Then call or even go visit -- don't be shy! This is your education. So take the time to explore the rest of Campus Starter's section on community colleges in Canada for even more information to help you get on the right path for your future!