12 Chapter 12: Policy Project Case Study “Keeping Up”

Keeping Up (Combined)


A local think tank, the Niagara University-Business Institute (NUBI), has issued a report detailing the readiness of graduates from both the college and university sectors for the workforce. NUBI has found that across institutions, there is considerable variation in the skill sets of graduates. As such, the Ministry of Education is considering implementing standardized testing for graduates of all postsecondary programs. This will allow the Ministry to monitor the quality assurance of the individual institutions, as well as ensure employers know the skills and attributes of graduates. While standardized, the tests would vary to capture the nuisances of each discipline. For example there would be one test for welding graduates and another for sociology graduates.


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Description of the Context

The college and university in your area – Local College and Regional University – have a strong relationship and a history of working collaboratively on many ventures. In keeping with this practice, the college and university have formed a joint committee to monitor and respond to the Ministry’s consideration of standardized testing. While the Ministry has not finalized any decisions or made any public announcements, the committee has been struck to ensure that the college and university can nimbly navigate the situation.

The programs offered by Local College focused on three main areas – technical programs in the red seal trades such as plumbing, ironwork, carpentry, hairstyling, cooking, and horticulture; specialized health care/emergency services such as nursing, paramedics, and police foundations; and professional programs such as broadcasting, early childhood education, environmental lab technician, and tourism management. Regional University offers undergraduate programs in social sciences, humanities, science, education, and engineering, of which the Faculty of Humanities boasts particularly strong and well-respected graduate programs. In addition to these programs, the Business Administration Department at Local College and the Faculty of Commerce at Regional University offer a collaborative business program in which students study for a time at each institution and earn both a college diploma and a university degree.

Although the university has strong co-op programs, the institution struggles to bolster their post-graduation employment rates for students who are not in co-op based streams. This is a paradox for Regional University as the quality of the academic curriculum, faculty, and instructors are well respected and on par with the top-tier institutions in the province. Having looked into this issue in greater depth a few years prior, NUBI suggested that the non co-op students have challenges in competing for jobs, especially in the province’s large urban center where competition is fierce. According to the research conducted by NUBI prospective employers have the impression that these students do not have “experience” or the needed “know-how” to easily transition into the workforce.

Given that attracting applicants is becoming increasingly competitive, the President of Regional University has made it a priority to find strategies to improve the post-graduation employment rate before it begins to impact the reputation of the school.

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Unlike the university, the college has strong post-graduation employment rates. Where Local College struggles is in helping students find pathways into university programs. With the Ministry’s commitment to ensuring flexibility and pathways for students to navigate their postsecondary education, many colleges have been trying to formalize transfer/laddering agreements with universities in order to capitalize on funding grants that are currently available. While Local College and Regional University have the collaborative business program, this is the only formal articulation agreement available to students. The staff responsible for partnership development at the college has suggested to the college President that more breadth is needed in the school’s course roster in order for universities to be interested in forming agreements. They have suggested adding a series of liberal arts courses and incorporating these into each program to afford students the breadth that universities are looking for. This would be a significant shift for the college which has had a long standing focus on very specialized professional/skill based programs.

Both the college and university have a significant proportion of international students, ranging between 10-15% of the total undergraduate student population at each institution. In the case of the collaborative business program, approximately 40% of the program is comprised of international students. Post-graduation surveys suggest that the majority of these students return to their home countries following graduation rather than looking for work in Ontario. While the program is accredited by various national finance, accounting, and business operations agencies, only roughly 50% of the total graduating class actually registers with these bodies to earn their license/designation in the province.

Task Description

You will assume one of the following stakeholder roles (number of people per role is in brackets):

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  1. Executive Member of the College Faculty Association (3-4)
  2. Member of the University Senate (2-3)
  3. College and University Student Union Executive (3-4)
  4. University sessional instructors (2-3)
  5. College sessional instructors (2-3)
  6. Co-chairs of the collaborative business program (2-3)

Week 1

In determining who will represent your school on the joint committee, the President has reached out to several members of the community. Before making a decision, the President has asked you to present your position on standardized testing for graduates. Do you support or oppose standardized testing for postsecondary graduates and why? Within the context of your role and your institution, what opportunities or threats do standardized tests pose? Share your statement.

Week 2

Having reviewed your comments, the President has asked you to join the joint committee to play a role in the standardized testing discussion. The committee has recently discovered that the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) will be preparing a report for the Ministry on the prospect of standardized testing in postsecondary education. In addition to analyzing the NUBI findings, the HEQCO research team has reached out to the postsecondary education community in the province to gain a greater understanding of the viewpoint held by various stakeholders on the issue. You have been approached by the research team to share your perspective. In order to lend more weight to your position, you have decided to join together with the other members of your stakeholder group on the joint committee to present a single statement to HEQCO. As a group, prepare a single, collective statement on what role you feel standardized testing should play in the future of higher education in Ontario. Do you support this direction? Why or why not? What impact would standardized testing have on your stakeholder group? What impact would standardized testing have on achieving the mission of postsecondary education? If instituted, what would standardized testing achieve and what would be lost? Share your statement.

Week 3

In response to the HEQCO report, the Ministry has shifted its focus toward quality assurance rather than honing in exclusively on standardized testing. While this is a relief to many members of the joint committee, the Ministry is now inviting stakeholders from across the postsecondary education sector to share their perspective on this new focus. How can colleges and universities assure their stakeholders of the quality of their programs? How should quality be defined and how can it be measured? What are indicators one can look for to assess the quality of a program? Should quality be defined universally (i.e. the same definition and assessment measures for all programs and across institutions) or is it more appropriate to define it for a specific program or institution? Who should get to define quality and assess programs? These are the types of questions that the Ministry is hoping to gain comments and perspectives on from the stakeholders.

  1. Your input – Post a statement to the Ministry on your perspectives on some of these questions.
  2. Your response – In an effort to gain multiple perspectives on this important topic, the Ministry is hoping to create greater dialogue amongst stakeholders. You have been asked to share your perspective on the comments/statement made by a member of a different stakeholder group. On Sakai, select a statement made by someone who holds a different role (i.e. if you are a sessional instructor, do not respond to the statement made by another sessional instructor). Post your response to the statement prepared by another stakeholder. Does their statement align with your perspective? Where do you think you share common ground and where is there divergence?

Note that each statement can only be responded to once – if a statement has already been replied to you must select a different statement to which to respond.

Remember to keep your statement professional and not personal. If feel that in your role you would disagree with elements of the statement you may expand on this in your response; however you are not to personally attack the individual who posted the original statement.

Strategies and Resources

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You can refer to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario website for further context on the role of this agency in the province’s postsecondary education sector.