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ACCC 2010 National Conference

How can you open 20 satellite campuses without spending a dime?  What do demographic and labour market projections tell us about the challenges of the future?  Why are Canada’s community colleges better for the economy than its universities?  Ken Steele is in Niagara Falls for the 2010 ACCC National Conference, and summarizes the sessions he’s seen in this blog (now expanded to include a second day of presentations).

The ACCC is a large gathering of the senior executive and board members of Canada’s community colleges, and I always find it a great place to reconnect with clients and colleagues.  My experience of the conference began on Sunday night, with a wonderful reception hosted by Niagara College at their new Wine Visitor & Education Centre at their Niagara-on-the-Lake campus.  NC proved themselves remarkable hosts and the weather cooperated beautifully.  The sunshine, fresh air, and the natural beauty of the vineyards and the Niagara escarpment provided a beautiful backdrop for live entertainment, gourmet fare and of course ample wine.

The conference had a great many parallel tracks and I am only able to give you a taste of the sessions I was able to attend, but I think there were some really interesting ideas shared. (Unlike the PSEWeb conference, ACCC didn’t attract many Twitterers, so I can’t say much about the sessions I missed.)

Farley Flex on Engaging Youth

Monday morning’s program began with a keynote by Farley Flex, best known as a judge on Canadian Idol, but also a National Ambassador for UNICEF and an advocate for PSE participation by visible minorities in Canada.  He described his teenage experience trying to deposit a duffel bag of cash in his bank account, and how successfully explaining the origins of the cash helped make it easier for the next young black man to do business with that bank too. Farley distinguished between the image we have of ourselves, and the perspectives of others — which are strongly influenced by the image we have of ourselves. Disengaged students don’t have a plan for their education or their  careers; they need help to see themselves differently.

Farley is working with 12 disadvantaged youth who demonstrate intelligence, passion, and curiosity — and yet earn a grade average of 35% or less in high school. Not surprisingly, their attendance was also poor. He believes that if you show up in class, you automatically get about 50%, if you try a little you get 60%, if you do a little homework you get 70%, and if you review on nights you don’t have homework you get 80%. Grades are about work habits and time management, not about “smarts.”  The challenge is that struggling students have no value for time, see everything as “now,” can’t delay gratification, don’t think about the future. They believe their parents would laugh if they said they were going to get to college. They need an adult who believes in them, and who doesn’t see college as a detour on the road to earning income. 

Malcolm Gladwell has observed that a single robbery of a local convenience store costs society about $500,000 — for the locksmith, glass vendors, arresting officers, holding cell, policy processing etc.  By comparison, educating a child from junior kindergarten to postsecondary is a bargain at $70,000-$90,000.  In a sense, crime is good for the economy — but it is a terrible cost to society, and to the individual.  All that students need is a sense of their own potential, a sense of belonging, and they can be catapulted into a successful life.

There’s a massive difference between teaching young people, and reaching young people, Farley says. Senior teachers can learn a lot from younger teachers, who are closer in age and culture to the students. Farley sees a need for ongoing character education in all PSE programs. Studies have found that teachers unconsciously provide female students, and those with lighter skin, more time to answer questions.  Parents at privileged high schools in Toronto raise a million dollars a year to augment school resources, while disadvantaged schools struggle to provide the basics. Do the math — half a million dollars per student. Society, industry, and government needs to pick up the slack.

College-Community Partnerships

Joel Ward, president of Red Deer College, and Tom Thompson, president of Olds College, presented  together on the challenges and rewards of their unique position, as two CCIs (Comprehensive Community Institutions) serving the same catchment region in “rurban” central Alberta.  They developed an innovative approach to serving smaller communities in partnership with municipal governments and corporate partners. (As a telling aside, Joel is the first speaker I’ve seen in Canada or the US speaking from notes on his iPad. Call me biased, but that’s an indicator to me of an individual who really does embrace innovation.)

The traditional model of satellite campuses “doesn’t work and is not sustainable.” The solution, they say, is more of a “franchise” model, using the CampusAlberta name, with sites owner-operated by the local community. Olds and RDC are the content providers or brokers, providing the instructors and curriculum, but the municipalities have to fund and build facilities (according to the college specs), recruit students, and manage the operating and capital budgets.

RDC and Olds began by establishing a joint venture agreement, because “good paper makes good friends.”  They established a governance team, because they did not need a third board, to guide a Regional Stewardship Governance model. After a single large meeting of community mayors and leaders, 9 communities signed up (including an Aboriginal community).  They started with a small community that would truly challenge their process and models: “if it will work in Delburne, it will work anywhere.”  The team engaged with municipal leaders to ensure that the community engagement site stayed on the agenda during corporate planning. That helped ensure that the site was positioned centrally in the new $25 million city centre site in Drumheller, for example. Putting the site next to a high school or public library not only leverages facilities, but encourages students to progress from high school to college.

Each  project began by establishing the desired ends.  In each community, the local community decided who the target market was — and often it was mothers.  Olds and RDC are now up to about 20 community engagement sites throughout the region. They include high technology through a partnership with Bell Canada, whose eLearning innovation centre is housed at Olds College.

People without Jobs, Jobs without People

After lunch, Dr Rick Miner, former president of Seneca College, discussed the findings of his report on Canadian labour market projections, “People without Jobs, Jobs without People.”  He promised equal doses of elation and depression for us all.

Demographics: In Canada we simultaneously are experiencing drastic demographic shifts and huge changes in educational attainment. As anyone who has heard me speak on emerging trends already knows, the baby boom generation is approaching retirement, and the traditional working-age Canadian will drop from 70% of the population to just over 50%. In 2021, the number of retirees will start to exceed the working population in many parts of the country. By 2031 the labour force participation rate will drop about 10%, to below 60%, and population will flatten, resulting in a labour force deficit of as much as 4 million workers. The “dependency ratio” (youth and seniors as a percentage of working-age) will rise from 44% to over 60% by 2031 — so while this generation will be highly employable, they will likely be highly taxed as well.

Workforce needs:  About 25% of job classifications are new every 25 years, and “old” jobs are transformed every 15 years. Every job demands more and more PSE over time — a knowledge economy demands knowledge workers. A range of studies project 65-81% of the workforce will need PSE — so the PSE shortfall is projected to be 16 million by the Lumina Foundation. Futurist Adam Gordon projects new job titles like body part manufacturer, memory augmentation surgeon, weather modification police, and social networking workers.  When the labour market shortfall is combined with increasing unemployment for those without appropriate education, the skill shortage will climb to 3.4 million by 2031. Canadian institutions will need to graduate more than 100,000 students a year.

Solutions:  Canada’s options are: increase immigration, and/or increase labour market participation by aboriginals, persons with disabilities, youth and/or seniors. It takes 10 years for immigrants to Canada to gain employment at the same rate as established Canadians, either because of credential recognition, language or cultural barriers. With labour market participation of just 55% among people with disabilities, there is huge potential to increase the workforce through accommodations. Female participation in the workforce could be increased through enhanced childcare options. Young people could be accelerated into the workforce through year-round schooling, joint university-college programs, the return of 3-year BA degrees, the improvement of high school, and attitudinal changes toward high school completion and PSE. Recent surveys have found that 42% of baby boomers are hoping for “cyclical employment” in retirement. Employers are less willing than employees to contemplate flexible approaches to retirement.

Rick also suggests that forcing high school students to choose a stream in grade 9 is far too young. We need to stop viewing retirement as an all-or-nothing proposition. We also need to address shockingly low rates of functional literacy (around 60% in Canada).  We need faster and anticipatory models of program renewal. There may be growing demand for modular, onsite, technology-based delivery of education. Hopefully there will be greater cooperation between universities and colleges. Industry needs to do more training of their workforce, and explore more flexible retirement plans.

Meeting Aboriginal Training Needs

Winnie Montague and Bobbi McLean from CNA spoke on “Innovative Approaches to Meeting Aboriginal Training Needs.” CNA has 17 campuses, largely on the island of Newfoundland, and 6 learning centers along the coast of Labrador. The population of Labrador is 27,000, spread over 300,000 square kilometers — and 42% of the population is aboriginal.  The Happy Valley – Goose Bay campus has about 600 traditional students, and 1500 students through contract training.

Typically, institutional barriers for aboriginal students include a lack of flexibility, the pace of delivery, a lack of aboriginal programming, and a lack of understanding for the values, beliefs and lifestyles of aboriginal students. Students in Labrador have very low literacy levels, very low participation in high school academic streams, achievement gaps (due to ESL issues) and a lack of adequate career counseling. Cultural and academic transition is crucial, and a bridging program can give students what they need.

CNA had huge support from its former president, Jean Madill, and an established Aboriginal Education Policy that addresses enrollment, retention and achievement, as well as the development of programs and services. The Aboriginal Initiatives team (the “A” team) meets monthly and brings together all the aboriginal student services people on the campus. Every effort is made to bring in elders from all 3 aboriginal groups, but the campus is too small for an elder in residence. Specialized programs include Aboriginal History, Labrador Society and Culture, Aboriginal Leadership and Aboriginal Bridging programs.

Partnerships have been essential, with aboriginal groups, friendship centres, economic development boards and town councils. CNA believes we have to “keep the community in the college.”

Achieving an Accessible and Inclusive College

John Draper, a Durham College graduate and an Oshawa journalist focused on augmentative and alternative communication, spoke to us (using a voice synthesizer) about a school leadership program he calls “Together We Rock.”  More resources for administrators, faculty and staff appear on John’s website,

People with disabilities still have the right to full Canadian citizenship.  It’s not acceptable to use “being realistic” as an excuse to give up hope. John’s parents were told when he was born that he would be brain-damaged, a “vegetable with limited potential.” (He is tempted to send a copy of his college diploma to that doctor with a note!) His parents didn’t give up hope, and neither has he — he cheers on the Toronto Maple Leafs, after all. Even his required course in photography was possible, albeit with incredible patience and commitment. People almost universally assume less capability for people with disabilities.

Most people with disabilities do not want to be perceived as special or inspirational, and John emphasizes that he does not want to be considered as “suffering” from cerebral palsy, or “confined” to a wheelchair. He is simply trying to live a full life.  He required accommodation for exams, washrooms, and strategies to find an appropriate position in the lecture hall, but he welcomed winter photography assignments, or even golf reporting in a rainstorm.

Change happens, one person, one moment at a time.  John vividly remembers the biggest risk he ever took, riding a water slide, after which he quite nearly drowned — but to achieve all that is possible, we must sometimes attempt the impossible, he says.

Powering the Future – The Employers’ Perspective

Jason Myers, CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, and Len Crispino, CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, spoke on “Partners’ Perspectives on Powering the Future.”

The recession hit Canadian manufacturing and exporting hard — about 30% in a matter of weeks, in October 2008, although in recent months production and exports have “snapped back.” Nonetheless, the threat of a double-dip recession remains, and consumer spending behavior is changing, perhaps permanently. Many industries are offshoring manufacturing and globalizing business. New pressures may also arise to respond to climate change.

Innovation to respond to these changes will depend on the “knowledge supply chain,” including Canada’s colleges, and the applied solutions they provide. Both speakers emphasized their belief that colleges are critical drivers of innovation, and that they will be critical to help Canadian business to succeed in an increasingly experiential and creative knowledge economy.

Canadian Immigration in Perspective

The final day of the ACCC conference began with a keynote address by Alan Broadbent, CEO of Avana Capital and chair of the Maytree Foundation. Alan observed that colleges are no longer merely “junior partners” in the PSE system.

Two major trends affecting Canada are urbanization and immigration.  Over the past 50 years, the largest metropolitan centers have grown while the smallest towns have stayed static or, in many cases, dwindled. The process of urbanization is still ongoing.  Immigration to Canada was once a result of “push” factors elsewhere — the breakup of Scottish highland clans, famines in Ireland, wars and poverty worldwide.  Then Wilfrid Laurier got strategic about populating the west by recruiting cold-weather farmers to Canada. Post-war Europe was a ruthless place, and encouraged many immigrants to Canada, often from farms and smaller towns to farms and smaller towns. Pearson and Sifton wanted these immigrants to succeed — so they constructed rail lines, grain co-ops, marketing boards and crop science programs.

It was around 1975 that Lester Pearson created the department of immigration, which invented a colourblind “points” system around human capital.  Immigration from Asia and South Asia grew rapidly, and many of those immigrants came from very large cities and therefore preferred to settle in Canada’s very large cities.  Urbanization and immigration have started to reinforce each other.

Canada has significant future challenges around its labour market, because of a diminishing birth rate, and immigration will be critical as a means to meet our labour market needs. Most nations in the world look at immigration as a problem to be managed, and focus on creating limits and managing its impact.  In the US, only about 52% of citizens view immigration positively; in Canada it is a whopping 75%.  By looking at immigration as a benefit, we can choose to invest in it as an opportunity.   “Are we going to give immigrants shackles, or are we going to give them wings?”

Canada needs to link immigration directly to the labour market.  We don’t need cold-weather farmers anymore, but we need to identify our specific needs and attract immigrants accordingly. And Canada’s colleges have a vital role to play in preparing that new workforce. Immigration, employers, and education need to be knit together. The CCIP program has been a tremendous step forward, and the colleges can move even further ahead.

Colleges run three risks, however: of turning the attention off students and onto faculty, of curriculum fossilization, and of losing connection to the community.  (Alan repeated an administrator’s observation that, at universities in particular, curricular change can be “like moving a graveyard.”) Alan sees colleges as having huge advantages over universities, and urged them not to squander that advantage in the quest to become “ordinary.”

Canada’s Science, Tech, and Innovation Future

Paul Charette, chairman of Bird Construction and chair of the Employers Coalition for Advanced Skills, offered an industry perspective on workforce and education. He believes we need to do more to get immigrants and disadvantaged youth into PSE, and observed that after decades, we are still facing skilled trades shortages, like 18 countries worldwide.  (Next week, Canada’s construction sector council will announce the latest projections, of a shortage of 395,000 workers in the next 8 years.) Since 2008 his group has been lobbying the federal government for increased funding for the college system, and believe they sparked the creation of the $2 billion KIP program. Paul believes we need to further strengthen the applied research capabilities of our colleges, and boost the availability of student aid.  Canada’s immigration point system is slanted against skilled tradespeople, and needs reform.  In addition to the demographic trends outlined by previous speakers, Paul also lamented the university bias of baby boomer parents, and the public perception of colleges.  He also emphasized the need to increase fertility rates: “some of you young people out there aren’t doing your jobs!”

Denise Amyot, CEO of the Canada Science and Technology Museums, said there are 2,500 museums across the country that would be delighted to work more with the colleges. Museums could showcase what colleges are doing in applied research, rather like Sir Adam Beck did in 1912, with the travelling “Beck Circus” of domestic appliances. The museums would also love to host student work placements. The Cultural Access Program gives free passes to Canada’s museums to all new immigrants to Canada.  The museums hold events in partnership with colleges and universities, to celebrate careers in aviation for example, and could do so for agriculture and other sectors as well. They could hold a national contest for green building. They could showcase student-built solar cars. CSTM has a travelling Science and Engineering Hall of Fame which could visit college campuses.  CSTM is planning to build a Canada Innovation Campus in 2017, although it does not yet have a funding green light — a platinum LEED building to showcase the innovation that is happening in Canada’s colleges and elsewhere. Such a centre does not exist elsewhere in the world.

Robert McCulloch, president of SIAST, wants us to remember that college PSE is focused on outcomes; we are in the business of “hire education.” The Bologna process is an assessment of outcomes in the university sector, and Robert believes we should develop a similar assessment of outcomes for the college sector. Despite being humble Canadians, colleges must “celebrate our successes” in applied research (solar energy, RFID, rural 911 and GPS integration, aerospace prototyping, etc).  And colleges must continue pushing for more federal research funding. Innovations that impact the Canadian economy will more likely come from applied research to the benefit of small and medium-sized businesses, rather than pure discovery science that benefits major multinationals, he insists.

Articulation and Pathways

Three members of the newly-established ACCC committee on transferability, articulation and pathways (Jan Lindsay of North Island College, Paul Byrne of MacEwan, and Ron Woodward from ACAAT) provided an early glimpse at the work their committee is starting. Employers are increasingly seeking knowledge and skills connected to work environments, and mature students need recognition of prior learning and workplace experience, and expect their credentials to be portable as they move to find employment. The committee believes that students have a right to barrier-free access to quality public education. For-profit colleges like Sprott-Shaw are promising students that they can “bridge into degree programs.” Public PSE needs to provide more flexible pathways for students.

Currently, ACCC has a pan-Canadian protocol that aims to reduce transferability barriers. In Alberta, BC and Quebec, there are admissions and transfer bodies. There are site-based hybrid institutions in Ontario (Seneca@York, UofGuelph-Humber).  The collective activities of MPHEC, the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, may be a model we could learn a lot from elsewhere in Canada. Generally, demand is exceeding capacity at PSE, although some colleges are struggling to maintain enrollment. If we can’t increase transferability, students will go elsewhere, to the private sector.

The committee will be trying to identify, define and quantify access to quality PSE. How do we assure quality and enhance student mobility?

A key to increasing transferability is the establishment of bridging or laddering curriculum, to ensure the students are prepared and program integrity is maintained. The committee is considering a range of strategies, such as broad-based collaboration between ACCC, AUCC, CMEC, PCCAT, provincial Quality Councils and employer councils. The quality issue is the “most effective trade barrier” the universities have, and yet quality is extremely difficult to define or measure. Most quality measures are input measures, but worldwide interest is rising in outcome-based measures of quality.  A national quality assurance framework could build on the work of the provincial quality councils, and could be doable. A web page off the ACCC website could help students identify articulations that exist.

The audience provided more food for thought to the committee members. National accreditation bodies might be able to help with the creation of outcome-based measures. Local, regional, then provincial, then interprovincial geographic agreements could also be a useful (albeit time consuming) strategy to gradually work toward a national framework. Articulation committees only work if all institutions are participating — and sometimes it’s the big research universities that feel little urgency to participate. David Turpin at uVic is also chairing an AUCC committee looking at the same issue from the university perspective, and the ACCC committee hopes to communicate closely with them. Australia has a national accreditation board that could be reviewed as a model. A pan-Canadian employer like the Canadian Military could be used as a common denominator.   Individual success stories could help university faculty overcome their concerns about college students in the abstract.  Many students at colleges are unaware of existing articulation agreements. Credits should transfer both to university and to colleges.  A great deal of work has already been done at the institutional level — is there a way to coordinate the existing work? There is some “stealth PLAR” (Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition) being done at the department level that may be officially invisible.  WestCAT was recently established to bring together CATs from BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.  BC and Alberta have signed an agreement to allow Athabasca U and TRU to become part of the CAT in the other province, to allow students to see their options on a single website.

Innovation, Colleges and Community

The final keynote at the ACCC conference was delivered by Stephen John Murgatroyd, a consultant, blogger, author and self-described “futurist” who has worked for the BC, Alberta, and Ontario governments, and is Chief Innovation Officer at ContactNorth.

Canada is becoming increasingly uncompetitive, and is currently ranked 9th by the World Economic Forum. We need innovation and value-added exports, not just commodity exports. We have significant cognitive literacy weaknesses, particularly among teachers. We are in the bottom quartile of the OECD metrics for leveraging technology. Americans are not the productivity leaders of the world, but we’re running at 75% of their productivity. We’re going to have to double immigration every 15 years just to maintain our economic status quo.

Moreover, there is a global war for talent as Canada’s workforce is shrinking. The recession caused a temporary ceasefire, but competition is particularly intense for senior management and executives, and senior public service positions. Wages in Canada are climbing on average 3% per annum; in India Apple and Dell both raised average salaries 75% this year, and will likely have to continue at that rate every year. India won’t be a low-wage market for long.

Canada declared an innovation agenda, with a goal to be in the top 5 OECD countries by 2010 — and we have fallen instead. Politicians would rather take money from PSE and invest in health care. Private firms like Nortel are gone, and there is little private money going into R&D in Canada now. And “Canada has gotten into very big trouble by throwing large amounts of money at universities for no apparent reason.” Colleges are our best hope to get out of that trouble, Stephen says.  If colleges go down the same road universities did, “we’re all in serious trouble.”

Most private-sector innovation is adaptive, combining pre-existing things rather than creating new, disruptive innovation based on basic research. There is no necessary connection between research and innovation, or even patents and innovation. Universities, Stephen says, “couldn’t commercialize a brewery.” Universities produce smart people, and that should be supported, but they do not commercialize things or create economic prosperity; private firms do.

The 6 keys to an effective innovation system are educated highly-qualified professionals, incentives for private-sector R&D, public-private partnerships for research, effective sector linkages between companies, a more open IP system, and access to capital. Stephen urges Canada to increase the absorption capacity of firms, stop seeing universities as centers of commercialization, improve productivity through continuing education, stimulate the development of industry clusters, and transform our high school systems.

High school is not just to get people into university. In Finland, dual credit programs from college and university are standard parts of high school. 8% of the apps in the iPhone store have been developed by kids still in school — despite school, not because of it.  Alberta will be announcing a major overhaul of its school system shortly.

Stephen challenges colleges to focus on productivity and skill development, to embed adaptability into everything they do, to focus on deployment and sustainability rather than R&D, to use their networks to create local and regional clusters, and to build cross-functional capacity within the college and between the college and its partner firms.  Graduate your students to be change agents, not to be stuck in the way they were taught. Use curriculum advisory councils to discuss and advance innovation for the sector. Think globally and act locally.  Try to focus on a roadmap of the future, not rear-view thinking, in partnership with industry. Create public-private partnerships to double innovation money. Communicate your successes in innovation to industry, government, and the general public.

Colleges should focus on the ROI of their applied research investments, rather than simply comparing their research funding to the funding universities receive. “Colleges are the future of Canada if they get this right.”

To Sum Up

In all, the sessions I attended at the 2010 ACCC provided quite a positive picture of Canada’s community colleges, their contribution to the economy and innovation, and their future. We’ve heard about some really interesting and innovative approaches to the business of running a college, educating aboriginal students and other under-represented groups, and heard a clear wake-up call for huge looming labour market needs for skilled trades workers and a range of job descriptions that haven’t even been written yet.

If anyone who attended other sessions at the ACCC has more to add, please feel free to comment below!

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