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State of the Ontario College System Today

The Ontario government has been conducting pre-budget consultations. The following are the comments made by our good friend and colleague Lynn Dee Eason, President of OPSEU Local 613 representing faculty at Sault College. Her remarks provide a great synopsis of the current state of the Ontario college system today.


Submission of Lynn Dee Eason to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs

January 21 2016, Sault Ste. Marie


Good afternoon. My name is Lynn Dee Eason and I am the president of Local 613 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. My local represents some 200 faculty at Sault College including counsellors, librarians, instructors and professors.

As well, I am a member of the Divisional Executive representing nearly 10,000 faculty at Ontario’s 24 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology, or CAATs as we are affectionately known.

In total, my union represents over 17,000 support staff and faculty at Ontario’s community colleges.

As a professor for over 30 years, I remain passionate about student success and have recently seen big and disturbing changes. Like many here, I sense a disturbance in the Force.


Probably the biggest change is the fact Ontarians no longer have “publicly-funded” post-secondary education in our province.

We now have “publicly-assisted” post-secondary education.

When the first CAATs opened their doors in 1967, approximately 75 per cent of our operating funding came from the province.

Now the province accounts for approximately 48 per cent of the CAATs’ operating funds.

There was a temporary increase in operating funding as a result of Bob Rae’s review into post-secondary education in 2005. However, the fiscal situation for colleges has badly deteriorated since the late 2000s.

In real dollar terms, the government has cut funding for the CAATs. According to Colleges Ontario, in 2014-15, real operating grants per student were almost $1,000 dollars lower than in 2007-08.

Per student revenue from operating grants and tuition fees for Ontario colleges is the lowest among the provinces.

Tuition fees here make up an increasing share of college and university funding. They now account for approximately 30 per cent of the operating revenue of the CAATs.

This is unconscionable. Post-secondary education is a public good. An education system that produces highly-skilled graduates ready to excel in the workplace is obviously a benefit for our whole society – economically and socially.

Our union believes in quality, accessible  post-secondary education. Implicit in the meaning of “accessible” is that education must be affordable.

Being accessible to people in their local community, particularly under-represented groups, is a crucial component of the CAATs’ mandate.

Almost 30 per cent of college students report household incomes of less than $30,000 and 55 per cent of college students report household incomes of less than $60,000.

Our students struggle to pay tuition and all their household costs. Many work part-time while attending college. Sixty per cent of college students don’t enter college directly from high school.

Our students are more likely to be living on their own, often with families of their own, and are returning to college to re-train or to learn new skills so they can do better in a challenging job market.


The government has made much of its 30 Per Cent Off Tuition Grant.

However, this tuition grant is not doing enough to make post-secondary education affordable.

Students are graduating with thousands of dollars in debt. That’s no way to start out.

There is also a specific barrier that our college students face in accessing this tuition grant.

According to Colleges Ontario, 38 per cent of college students receive the grant. Many of our students aren’t eligible because they are mature students who have been out of high school for more than four years – returning to school as mature students.

The tuition grant can only be seen as a flawed and partial fix to a much bigger problem.

On the one hand, the colleges say they face a net funding gap of $86 million in 2016-17. The cause, they say, is years of cuts to their operating grants – in real dollars – and constraints on how much they can increase tuition fees.

On the other hand, it is very clear to everybody that operating funds cannot come from tuition fee increases. Our students can’t afford it. As it is, they bear far too much of the burden of funding the college system.

Flawed College Responses to the Problem

As to answers, here are a couple of non-starters.

The answer is not for colleges to find funding sources through questionable contracts at home and abroad.

The answer is not for colleges to cut costs by increasing the proportion of teaching done by part-time, contract faculty.

First I will talk about the questionable contracts here at home.

There are 24 public colleges in Ontario and more than 400 private colleges.

The public colleges are now contracting with private colleges and giving them license to deliver a number of the CAATs’ programs.

In one example, Cambrian College contracted with Hanson International Academy, licensing Hanson to deliver a number of Cambrian programs at its Toronto and Brampton campuses.

Most of these programs were offered at Cambrian’s main campus in Sudbury; some no longer are.

The private college recruited students based on the Cambrian programs. It used course outlines developed by Cambrian faculty. The students graduated with Cambrian diplomas. But the students were not taught by Cambrian faculty.

At the very heart of quality education is the teaching and learning experience. It is our view that the students of the private college were misled. They mistakenly believed they were getting a Cambrian education. They paid almost four times the price.

The private college’s website lists the tuition for Hotel & Restaurant Management at $26,976. The equivalent at a community college is $8,800.

The reputation of a public college – and the years of public funding and faculty experience that went into developing their quality programs – was used to recruit students for a profit-making enterprise.

And now, let’s examine colleges entering questionable contracts abroad.

Our union has been actively seeking answers from the government about the campuses that Algonquin and Niagara Colleges have established in Saudi Arabia, a country with a human rights record that has gone from bad to worse in recent months. The mass execution of 47 people in a single day earlier this month sent shockwaves around the world.

Our union wrote to Premier Wynne directly on this matter 10 months ago, but we have heard nothing [at the date of writing–January 21 2016].

What did the government know about its colleges’ deals in Saudi Arabia? Did the government give them the green light? Why won’t the government come out and say as a matter of policy, no government-funded institution will have any dealings with Saudi Arabia? Are we chasing dollars at the expense of human rights?

Precarious Work: Consequence of the Funding Crisis

Finally, I want to turn to a tragic consequence of the funding crisis in Ontario colleges: the increasing proportion of teaching done by part-time faculty.

Union success at maintaining living standards for full-time permanent staff has led college employers to flood the workplace with low-paid, non-union, part-time staff. In some cases, part-time college faculty are earning a fraction of the going rate for teaching credit courses.

The ratio of full-time to part-time college professors is at least one to three across the province. At some, the percentage of Part-time is now 70-75%.

College part-time and partial-load faculty are paid by the hour for time spent in the classroom only. They prepare, mark, attend meetings and work with individual students on their own time – often earning less than the minimum wage for the total time actually spent at work, forcing them to seek multiple jobs.

Partial-load faculty have the required post-graduate degrees and experience. Yet they have to re-apply for their own jobs every 14 weeks year after year.

The reliance on non-full-time professors is a threat to quality education. It’s not due to a lack of skill of the contract faculty, however. Rather, the lack of full-time, available faculty means less time for helping students, less time for course and program development, and a greater challenge to maintain consistent academic standards.

Ontario’s 24 public colleges must have adequate funding to support good jobs on their campuses.

In September, our union launched an organizing drive among part-time support staff at Ontario’s 24 colleges.

Part-time college workers do not have some of the basic protections under the Employment Standards Act, such as paid holiday and vacation pay.

It is sadly ironic that even as students attend college in order to obtain a good job, the colleges themselves rely so heavily on precarious labour.

I would be pleased to take your questions.


[Editor’s note: This web post was revised to correct the percentage of college and university funding made up by tuition fees. Lynn Dee’s original remarks cited 20%; the correct figure is 30%.]