Province Gives Its Blessing To Public-Private College Partnerships

Ace Acumen graduations won't become a thing of the past after all, thanks to the continuation of public-private college partnerships.

In what is now a complete reversal of a policy of the former Liberal regime, the provincial Conservative government has given its unqualified blessing to public-private college partnerships in Ontario.

Towards the end of its time in office (in September of 2017), the Liberal government of then-Premier Kathleen Wynne had announced that such partnerships would be gradually phased out and (ultimately) eliminated.

Its purported rationale was that the private college students being served by such partnerships were not enjoying the “full (public) college experience”, in terms of services or “atmosphere”.

Cynics thought there might be a hidden reason for the Liberals’ mothballing policy: namely, jealousy. Most of the partnerships saw non-Toronto-based public colleges providing satellite campus services to Toronto-based private schools – thus “trespassing on the turf” of Toronto-based public colleges.

St. Clair, for instance, has had a relationship with Toronto’s Ace Acumen Academy since 2014.

Ace Acumen is a private-sector school, that provides secondary school education and English-language training to immigrants (chiefly from Asia).

In the early years of this decade, it began searching for a public college that it could partner with, in order to provide its students with some follow-up – and on-site – postsecondary education opportunities.

After months of negotiation, in early 2014, it launched such a partnership with St. Clair.

Initially, with abundant academic oversight and licensing its curriculum to the private school, St. Clair offered two Ontario college diploma programs at Acumen’s Toronto Campus: Business and Computer Systems Technician-Networking.

The on-site offerings proved so popular among Acumen’s students that the program options expanded to include International Business Management, Social Service Worker-Gerontology, and Freight Forwarding.

At approximately the same time (the past half-decade), five other public colleges established similar partnerships with immigrant-serving private schools in the Greater Toronto Area: Cambrian College of Sudbury, Canadore College of North Bay, Northern College of Timmins, St. Lawrence College of Kingston/Brockville/Cornwall, and Lambton College of Sarnia.

Note, again, that all of the public colleges cited in that list are non-Toronto-based – which may have irked such Toronto-based public colleges as Humber, Sheridan and George Brown ... and, maybe, the Liberals.

The Liberals’ mothballing announcement meant that the partnered public colleges stood to lose millions of dollars in tuition revenue from their “satellite” students. St. Clair, for instance, was earning approximately $6 million annually from Ace Acumen at the height of its partnership.

The Liberals’ policy was to be implemented in phased-in fashion. Students currently enrolled in the satellite programs would be able to finish their educations, but no new (first-year) enrolment intake was to be allowed as the mothballing took effect.

Within a year of the new policy getting underway, however, the Liberals were replaced by the Conservatives during the June, 2018 election ...

... And in December of 2018, the Conservatives announced that the policy would be shelved. The new government said it might come up with some new guidelines and regulations, but that public-private college partnerships would be allowed to continue.

On November 12 (2019), Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano announced that those guidelines and regulations would – excuse the pun – be very liberal.

Here’s some commentary from ministry press release on the subject:

Minister Romano was at St. Lawrence College to announce that Ontario is introducing a new policy to support public college-private partnerships that allow colleges to be more financially competitive.

In return, the economic advantages from delivering their programs to more students in more locations can be invested back into the colleges' main campuses and local communities.

"Through these partnerships, students will get the education and training they need for good jobs, so Ontario businesses have the skilled workforce to grow and make Ontario open for business and open for jobs," said Romano. "These partnerships will strengthen communities across the province by encouraging international students to study at campuses outside the Greater Toronto Area, and to remain there after their studies."

So, that is a somewhat new wrinkle to the situation. The Conservatives appear to be suggesting that, in addition to satellite campuses (in Toronto), the public colleges should also facilitate the migration of students from the Toronto-based private schools to their out-of-Toronto main campuses ...

... For example, that an Ace Acumen language school grad would either be allowed to proceed into a St. Clair program based at the Toronto satellite facility, or be admitted into programs at St. Clair’s “traditional” campuses in Windsor and Chatham.

Any way you look at it, the amended policy is good news for the non-Toronto-based, small- and mid-sized colleges that were looking at a significant revenue loss under the previous Liberal policy.

And it is obviously self-serving from the cost-cutting government’s perspective too, because:

• it allows the small- and mid-sized colleges to continue to solicit significant revenue in the form of international tuition – reducing the need for provincial grant-funding; and

• it negates the need for provincial capital funding of new building projects at Toronto-based public colleges, if students can (instead) be accommodated within the private colleges or at the non-Toronto-based schools.

"We are extremely pleased with the Ministry's announcement, as a reconfirmation of our long-standing relationship with the Ace Acumen Academy in Toronto," said St. Clair College President Patti France. "We believe the liaison between public and private institutions is a 'win/win' scenario for both parties – and definitely a win for the students who are obtaining convenient access to additional learning opportunities."