Complaints about career colleges emerge

Students allege low quality instruction, alcohol on breath

Complaints filed by students about some of Ontario’s private career colleges allege that harassment from teachers, inadequate instruction and lack of proper equipment are hurting the quality of education at these increasingly popular institutions.

“The teacher is very degrading and belittling of her students on a daily basis,” reads a complaint from a student at Everest College’s Mississauga campus.

“She is constantly using rude and offensive language.”

Among the complaints are numerous allegations that instructors behaved unprofessionally or lacked knowledge.

There are also claims that some schools didn’t have the equipment needed for certain training programs and that instructors at several institutions didn’t provide the amount of instruction time promised.

The documents, obtained by The Canadian Press through a freedom of information request, outline 47 formal complaints made by students to Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in 2010 and 2011.

Private career colleges are independently owned but must be registered by the province and abide by rules set out in provincial laws.

If a student has an issue that the school isn’t able to resolve, he or she can file a complaint with the ministry, who will decide if the school is in compliance with the Private Career Colleges Act.

The ministry has several options to get a school to play by the rules, including issuing a compliance order, administrative penalty or suspension, or revoking the school’s registration and effectively shutting it down.

The bulk of the complaints — about 36 per cent — were about Everest College, which has some 5,000 students and operates 16 campuses in the province. They include facilities in Toronto, Mississauga, Thunder Bay and Ottawa.

There are allegations an instructor at the school’s Mississauga campus frequently swore in class, called students “baby” and “doll” and only provided half of the instruction hours promised.

“I strongly believe I smelled alcohol on her breath,” one student alleges.

“Since being at this school I have been put on antidepressants and have been having a hard time sleeping, it has caused a huge amount of stress.”

A student at the Scarborough campus alleges that the materials needed for class weren’t provided, a mannequin used for X-rays was broken and the computers were constantly out of service.

And a complaint about the school’s Barrie location says students were promised formal, hands-on instruction but instead got an absentee teacher who was unable to answer students’ questions on the rare occasions when he was present.

“Since starting at Everest I have discovered that I was misled,” the complaint reads.

“The program is strictly self taught and the equipment room no longer has any equipment. Essentially my classroom time is spent reading a book.”

Ministry spokesman Gyula Kovacs says unless the ministry takes certain actions that are publicly posted, like a compliance order, it cannot release any information about what, if anything, was done in response to a complaint.

“If the complaint to the Superintendent alleges that the instructor’s behaviour is an issue and the school’s response did not resolve this issue, the complaint will be looked into,” Kovacs said in an email.

“However, the Ministry only has the authority to resolve complaints that deal with non-compliance under the Act.”

There are no compliance orders or administrative penalties posted online about Everest.

Rupert Altschuler, the school’s divisional president, said the ministry did not find the school to be breaking any rules set out in the act during the 2010 to 2011 academic year.

“Everest College operates in accordance with ministry guidelines, takes complaints very seriously and acts on each issue immediately,” said Altschuler in an email.

“The college has an extremely well-promoted, ministry-approved program for managing and resolving student issues.”

Carol Stanford, regional vice president of operations at Everest, said all of the school’s instructors meet the minimum requirements set out by the Private Career Colleges Act, and many of them exceed these requirements.

“Any unprofessional behaviour is unacceptable at Everest,” said Stanford.

There were similar complaints alleging incompetent, unprofessional teachers at Evergreen College and the Canadian Business College.

“My knowledge after graduation from this program is poor,” reads a complaint from a student at the Canadian Business College dated September 2010. “I’m not qualified to apply for the position they told me that I would be (qualified for) after completing their program.”

The student goes on to allege that the program instructor was “inexperienced” and “could not answer questions when asked.”

In January, the ministry issued a compliance order to the school that claims it has been offering unapproved programs, employing instructors that don’t meet the necessary qualifications and using false statements in advertising material.

Jeffrey Nicholson, a spokesman for the Canadian Business College, said he expects the compliance order will be lifted.

“It’s been the college’s position from the beginning that most of the allegations in the compliance order were either completely false or at least unfounded,” said Nicholson.

“We have met all of the concerns that the ministry had and we’ve taken all of the appropriate steps to correct or clarify what needed correcting.”

He added the instructor who was the subject of the September 2010 complaint is a former software engineer with a major technology firm and has been certified as an instructor by another prominent tech company.

Julia Gu, director of Evergreen College’s downtown Toronto campus, said the school took actions and submitted documents to the ministry to satisfy complaints and noted that the school adheres to all provincial standards about instructor qualifications.

Serge Buy, chief executive officer of the National Association of Career Colleges, says the total number of complaints is low considering how many students enroll in career colleges every year.

“While I would prefer to have zero complaints, I believe that when you look overall at the number of students, I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” he said.

“We get complaints about the public sector, from students who are coming to us and saying ‘We’re tired. This is ridiculous. We want a change.’ And they’re going to the private sector.”

There are more than 67,000 students attending registered private career colleges in Ontario, according the ministry. That’s more than double the 30,000 students enrolled in 2010.

In B.C., some 50,000 students are enrolled in registered private career colleges, while Nova Scotia has just over 3,000 students attending private colleges.

Most of these schools are aimed at building practical job skills that can help students enter the workforce quickly.

—Alexandra Posadzki, The Canadian Press

This was first published Sep. 3, 2012.