Portage Response to Blue Ribbon Panel Report

September 5, 2019

In the report from the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta's Finances, Portage College was singled out for having the lowest completion rates in the province at less than 40%. This leaves the impression that Portage College's programs are inferior in quality which is not true. Portage College's student completion rate, using the Advanced Education approved methodology, was 76% in 2017-18.

Portage College understands that the data set provided in the KPMG supporting document for the Blue Ribbon Panel was from the 2011 cohort. This is significant in understanding the low completion rate reported because in the 2011 cohort the College was approved to count over 1,100 course-based learners, many of whom never intended to complete the program. These 1,100 learners represented approximately 33% of the overall College enrolment for that year. Most students only intended to take one or two courses that they needed to enter a very hot job market at the time. The methodology for counting these part-time registrants was changed by Advanced Education in 2013-14 as the government realized the impact on learner completion statistics at the time. The data provided to KPMG was footnoted, noting Portage College certificate completion rates would rise significantly starting from the 2013/14 cohort calculation due to the change in methodology.

Methodology for counting completers is defined by Advanced Education and has changed over the years. Currently Portage College has student completion rates of 76%. Furthermore, it may be of interest to know that 83% of Portage graduates are employed, 70% within our service region and that employers are 100% satisfied with the quality of our graduates. Some examples of learner pathways that would lead to lower completion rates are listed below:

Examples:

  • The Early Learning & Childcare program has had over 150 students register annually. Students are often working in their field and sometimes pick up only the courses required to meet government regulated minimum standards. For these students, it is not their intention to receive a college certificate or diploma and therefore they are not considered graduates in the KPMG measure. However they have obtained the work skills they require to be gainfully employed.
  • Dual credit courses are offered to students registered in high school. These students attend Portage courses to broaden their high school experience and are working off courses required for other post-secondary institutions' programs and may not ever register as a student with Portage to complete their training.

Another factor leading to low completion is a direct result of Portage College fulfilling government directives to collaborate with other post-secondary institutions. Portage partners with all Alberta public post-secondary institutions as well as other specialized institutions across Canada. Many Portage College programs offer transferability options, such as block transfers of certificates and diplomas or individual courses that can be credited toward a degree or diploma at another institution. This means many students may begin studying in their home community with Portage College and then advance onto another institution before graduating.

Portage College also has a unique mandate when compared to a university, technical school and even several of the comprehensive community colleges. This mandate from the Minister of Advanced Education is to serve Northeastern Alberta students and requires services for students with learning disabilities and mental health challenges, those who are first generation post-secondary students, and those who face challenges such as attending school while being a single parent personal challenges like being single mothers.  This has historically been Portage College's mandate as many students with these needs would not be successful in a large urban institution away from their home communities. These are unique factors that have always been understood and approved by Advanced Education.

Portage College has a rigorous quality assurance process for its programs. Many of the programs are audited by external regulatory bodies and are reviewed by institutions during transfer agreement negotiations. Transfer agreements are in place for over 140 programs and courses with institutions such as the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, NAIT and SAIT.

In programs that would be comparable to other institutions in their curriculum and student demographics, Portage students are doing very well provincially and nationally. For example, more than 87% of 4th and 3rd Class Power Engineering students receive parchment.  They also often record a 100% pass rate on the Provincial Boiler Branch exams. The College's Community Social Work program, which is regulated by the Alberta College of Social Workers, recently received a seven-year accreditation approval and boasts over 80% graduation rates. Further, 100% in the Practical Nurse program passed the National exam in 2018-19.  These high success rates also apply to trades programs, with the highest mark in the province being awarded to a student in the Electrical program last spring.

Lastly, it should be noted that Portage is financially viable, with the lowest administrative salaries in the province. The College has instituted several austerity measures including freezing of faculty and support staff salaries starting in 2015 as well as college restructuring. In addition, the College has received full green lights on the review completed by the Auditor General.

Portage College Administration has raised these concerns with Alberta's Minister of Advanced Education and will have further dialogue with the ministry.

Update Sept 6, 2019: An edit was made to the above release to clarify that the 1,100 learners mentioned do not represent the total number of students in that cohort.

Media Inquiries: 
Jaime Davies, Corporate Communications Manager 
780-623-5581 or email 

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