Did you know that as of 2012, there were over 67,000 students attending private career colleges in Ontario?
We can safely assume that the number has increased significantly since then. More than 600 private career colleges in Ontario offer diploma programs.
Out of these, about 118 offer Personal Support Worker diploma programs.
If you are interested in training to become a Personal Support Worker in Ontario, you might easily be overwhelmed by all the different education possibilities.
How can you figure out which program is best in general and, more importantly, best for you?
BENEFITS OF PRIVATE vs. COMMUNITY COLLEGES
The best place to start is to think about the benefits of community colleges versus private career colleges, generally.
Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology such as such as St. Clair College and Fanshawe College, are considered tried and tested, their names are widely recognized, and their credentials are readily accepted as valid.
They also tend to offer more extensive and thorough course work, as well as the security of knowing your instructors are qualified and properly vetted.
They receive government grants and funding, and therefore are able to usually offer lower tuition, as well as better facilities and resources.
This gives you the best of both worlds.
Also, better facilities and resources, for example the equipment, are especially important considerations in a program like the Personal Support Worker program.
It’s very difficult to learn how to properly make a bed or learn about medical equipment without having access to beds and said equipment!
Choosing a community college also provides peace of mind and assurance with regard to the quality and suitability of the curriculum and other program components.
While private colleges require more scrutiny by prospective students, well-run colleges do have some advantages.
They tend to have smaller, sometimes much smaller, class sizes, providing more one-on-one time with the instructors, and therefore more time for “hands on” training.
They also offer “fast-track” type programs, and often allow the student to finish his or her training in a much shorter amount of time.
An example of a full-time private career college PSW program time frame is four months, whereas community college full-time PSW programs are usually eight months.
However, community colleges usually have the advantage with regard to tuition.
Community college program tuition is usually around $3,500 to 4,000, while private career college tuition ranges from around that level to as much as $7,000!
DISADVANTAGES OF PRIVATE COLLEGES
As mentioned earlier that private career colleges do require more scrutiny from prospective students, you have probably already guessed that some of them may be a bit shady and dishonest.
If so, you are right!
Unfortunately, there are many problems in the Ontario private college arena.
Most of these arise from a disproportionate profit-motive since many of them are actually private businesses.
In other words, they arise from greed.
Corrupt owners want to take students’ tuition money, but they don’t want to bother paying for good facilities, qualified and dedicated instructors, and adequate materials.
One significant problem is the fact that many private colleges engage in false advertising and aggressive marketing.
They try to lure unsuspecting people into enrolling for programs that the victims will eventually find useless, or close to useless.
They do not gain necessary skills, have a hard time finding employment, and establishing a successful career.
MOST COMMON FLAWS
- Dishonest Advertising
Many private career colleges indulge in rather dishonest advertising.
You see how many private career colleges mention that they offer a “National Exam” or a “Provincial Exam”.
The fact of the matter is that no such tests are required in any way in order to work and succeed as a Personal Support Worker.
They are meaningless!
Career colleges offer these “exams” simply as a way to make their programs seem better than others.
- Quality of Instruction
Another issue is poor quality instructors, who are not properly qualified and/or who behave unprofessionally.
There are many stories of unqualified, rude, verbally abusive instructors.
In the MacLean’s magazine 2012 article, “Complaints about career colleges emerge”, there are numerous descriptions of student complaints about private college instructors.
These complaints include ones about extremely rude and incompetent instructors.
There are descriptions of instructors swearing and coming to class almost drunk or drunk. Alcohol could be smelled on the instructor’s breath.
There are also accounts of problems with high levels of instructor absenteeism.
Students also complain that the instructors simply did not do their jobs and/or were unqualified and incompetent, and that they learned nothing to aid them in their hopes for future careers.
- Admissions Office a.k.a Sales office
Yet another concern is unprofessional, dishonest administrative and managerial staff.
For example, there are “admissions officers” that are really only salespeople, and who lie to prospective students, misrepresenting their colleges’ qualities.
These people are unabashedly pushy, and overwhelm the prospective student with heaps of glossy brochures, which often do not contain enough (or any) real information.
It is well-known that some private colleges use contact information given by someone in a simple request for program information, to continually call that person, sometimes leaving numerous voicemails.
Often, you have to actually spell out to them that you do not want them to call you again, even if you have already told them you are no longer interested in the program.
Another issue is with the “complaints process” set up by individual private colleges.
Sometimes, this process is completely inadequate, and it is clear that the administration have no intention of pursuing any student complaints.
Also, there have been instances of students being denied necessary documentation to deal with their student loans.
Another issue is lack of proper equipment and other resources, sometimes a severe lack.
Unfortunately, it is often after registration papers have been signed, tuition fees paid, and the program begun that students realize the reality of the situation.
By that point they are very likely locked in and will lose money and time.
In the above mentioned 2012 MacLean’s article, we see that students complained about broken and/or missing vital training equipment.
BOGUS PRIVATE CAREER COLLEGES IN ONTARIO
As you have likely already gathered, dishonest and inadequate (in other words, bogus) private career colleges are a major problem in Ontario.
You may have read the well-known The Toronto Star article from 2009, “College Sold Fake Diplomas”.
If you have not done so already, make sure to read the article.
This article exposed a very shady private college that was actually selling diplomas!
It is certainly an eye opener!
It is clear that this problem and all the others discussed above are significant dangers to students, as well as the public as a whole.
This is especially the case with programs like the Personal Support Worker program.
The disabled, elderly, and sick put blind trust into people who appear to have PSW qualities and qualifications.
If those people have actually not received adequate education and training (which includes experience), they are actually putting people’s health and lives in danger!
Other difficulties obviously arise in the future lives of duped students.
The relative pervasiveness of the problems with private career colleges (along with lack of college name recognition) makes it less likely for private career college graduates to find employment quickly, or at all.
Many graduates have found themselves not only in thousands of dollars of student loan debt, but also with no real training in their field and no job!
DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE
It is extremely important to properly and extensively research whatever private college you are considering attending.
Research its reputation among employers, and its status with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Remember that all colleges are required by law to obtain and maintain registration with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Make sure that any prospective career college is indeed registered.
Click here to search for a private career college and see if it is registered and is in good standing with the superintendent of private career colleges.
If a college is not registered, do not even consider attending it.
But unregistered colleges are not the only danger. Even if a college is indeed registered, its programs, facilities, and instructors may still have inadequacies.
The ministry has received, and continues to receive, criticism over its failure to properly inspect and enforce its regulations with regard to private college quality and integrity.
Over the past few years, as a result of public outcry, there have been improvements made in its enforcement of the regulations, but the ministry still has a long way to go.
It is imperative that you do diligent research on any private college you are considering.
Do this research before you begin talking to anyone from the college itself.
Many private colleges actually employ experienced and sometimes dishonest salespeople to speak to students, and you could find yourself signing something you will regret.
Also check the database for complaints against, or other issues with, the college. Make sure to use Google and the internet in general as research tools, as well, and try to find opinions from people who have attended the college.
Don’t just trust the testimonials on the college’s website or in its brochures!
They might be fake.
Additionally, click here to check out the general details you need to know about Ontario private career colleges.
DO NOT BE THE TARGET
Unfortunately, it is often the vulnerable and frightened people in our society, including the unemployed, people with a low income, that dishonest private career colleges target.
Private career colleges also tend to target new Canadians.
They are targeted because they are new to the country and do not have the same cultural knowledge about Ontario and its education system.
Also, they tend to be more likely to assume that the college must be good, or it would not be allowed to stay open.
This is especially the case when they come from a country that has strong regulation in all areas of education.
In addition, the stress of moving to a new country and trying to find a new profession or job is very taxing, and can easily distract someone from thinking about more obscure considerations.
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
In 2009, The Toronto Star published another article entitled, “Ontario Gets Failing Grade on Bogus Colleges”. This article was a major expose of serious problems, and was a major impetus for change.
The article described “the Wild West of Ontario’s career college world”, and Ontario was, indeed, truly a wild west.
Unfortunately, as a result, huge numbers of students were blatantly cheated out of their money and time.
And when students complained, very rarely was anything done.
It is revealed that complaints were not properly investigated, and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities only had shoddy and incomplete record keeping.
At that time, it was extremely rare for private colleges to be shut down.
A couple of months before The Toronto Star article was published, the Ontario Ombudsman had also published a report titled, Private Career Colleges: Too Cool for School.
This report condemned Ontario’s regulation and monitoring, or lack thereof, of private career colleges.
He found and reported that the ministry’s enforcement of the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005 was almost non-existent in many cases.
CHANGES IN LAST FEW YEARS
As a result this outcry and resultant bad publicity, over the last few years the Ontario Government has taken steps to improve its enforcement of their regulations with regard to private colleges, particularly in the areas focussed upon in the aforementioned articles and reports.
It has moved away from a “voluntary compliance” and “coaching” approach to an investigative and enforcing one.
It has improved the clarity of its complaint process, and is generally keeping a closer eye on the colleges.
Also, it has made its complaints process and records much more transparent.
Members of the public can now see a great deal more information on complaints and sanctions against specific colleges, on the Ontario career college registry site.
In addition, the ministry is being much stricter in its enforcement of the requirement for college registration.
It only gives colleges limited time to become registered and if the college does not comply, they are much more often shut down.
Also, the ministry now lists unregistered colleges that they are aware of the presence of, in their registry, so that students can be warned off them.
Sadly, however, a MacLeans Magazine article, entitled “Complaints about Career Colleges Emerge”, which was published in 2012, sets out numerous complaints against career colleges.
These complaints touch on everything from instructors, to equipment, to administration.
It is clear from this article that even though changes have been made, there is certainly still a long way to go.
This is why it is so important to do your own research, and double check everything you learn.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING A COLLEGE
The Personal Support Worker program is necessarily one that is very experience based.
This is why proper programmes offer very substantial work placements, as well as a lot of hands on experience in the classroom.
Along with the hands on aspect comes substantial reading and writing work.
In order to be competent and helpful to your clients, Personal Support Workers must have strong and complete knowledge in your field, as well as a great deal of practical experience.
Without either one of those things, a Personal Support Worker will be risking the health and safety of the public.
PSWHQ recommends learning about the Personal Support Worker programs at large and widely recognized public Ontario community colleges and more prominent private career colleges.
Read about the components of at least three or four such programs.
Doing so will give you a good idea of what components a good program will have, and therefore a measure against which you can compare other programs that you find.
PSW EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM ACCREDITATION
Something useful you need to be aware of is the PSW Educational Program Accreditation.
Make sure you do not get confused between this and the aforementioned Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities registration, which is a completely separate.
While it is not mandatory for programs to register for PSW Educational Program Accreditation, and it is still a relatively new program, checking out which colleges have registered and become accordingly accredited will show you some of the best programs out there!
Make certain that your prospective program has at least:
- 225 hours of theory (classroom),
- 265 hours of practicum (work placement), and
- 10 hours of evaluation.
This is absolutely essential!
As mentioned earlier, all private career colleges in Ontario must be registered with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
The Government of Ontario has a database of all private career colleges in Ontario. Make certain to search for all prospective colleges in this database.
If it’s not in their database, it is not registered, and therefore it is illegal!
There are some unregistered and therefore illegal, career colleges that the government is aware of. Click here to check this notorious list.
OTHER OPTIONS TO PURSUE PSW PROGRAM
One other option to complete a PSW diploma program is through the local Boards of Education.
The Adult Education wings of several Ontario Boards of Education offer very highly respected Personal Support Worker programs.
If you do not already hold an OSSD (Ontario secondary school diploma), choosing a Board of Education Adult Education program can be advantageous as many of them allow you to earn a secondary school diploma and PSW diploma at the same time!
Another advantage of Board of Education Adult Education PSW programs is that many of them have already registered for, and been accredited by, the PSW Educational Program Accreditation.
Examples include the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, the Toronto District School Board, and the Thames Valley District School Board, among numerous others.
FOUND AN UNREGISTERED PRIVATE COLLEGE. NOW WHAT?
All private career colleges are required by law to register with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
If they do not do so, they can be closed down.
If you come across one that is not registered, make certain to do your part in improving Ontario’s college system, and report such illegal colleges to the ministry.
You can do so by emailing at PCC@ontario.ca.
We have seen in this article that students must be extra vigilant in their research of private career colleges.
Regardless of the education venue you choose, though, research is always necessary. You owe it to yourself, as well as to your community, to find and enjoy the best program possible!