Chapter 4 – Findings from other jurisdictions

Table of Contents

Section II – A closer look at credential mix in selected jurisdictions


To study these broad global trends in more detail, we profiled seven jurisdictions in three regions. For each jurisdiction, we identified system priorities, analyzed core delivery and quality assurance features; examined trends in enrollment and outcomes for key credentials of interest and identified innovative practices in articulating skills, work-integrated learning, and employer partnerships. Our methodology and detailed scans of each jurisdiction can be found in Appendix A of this report. Table 17 below highlights our rationale for selection of the jurisdictions included in this report.

Table 17: Jurisdictions selected for analysis and rationale for their inclusion

Rationale for inclusion in scan

US: Washington State, Oregon, Wisconsin Experimentation with various forms of applied Bachelor's degrees and short, stackable labour-market credentials.
EU: Ireland, England Three-year Bachelor's degrees; pan-European alignment of postsecondary education; and the alignment of qualifications frameworks and learning outcomes.
Canada: British Columbia, Alberta Differentiated systems with multiple mandates of postsecondary institutions; significant community college experience in associate degree-level education.

Our findings are organized into the following topics:

  • System design and differentiation – What is the institutional mix, and to what extent is there differentiation among institutions? Have institutional mandates changed over time?
  • Credential mix – What is the credential mix and the proportion of students that complete each type of credential? Have new labour market focused credentials been introduced over time? For new credentials, what do we know about the outcomes of graduates? Have there been innovations (e.g., articulating skills, WIL, employer partnerships) in credential delivery?
  • Quality and learning outcomes – How do other jurisdictions assure the quality of new and existing programming? How prominent are qualifications frameworks and the use of statements of learning outcomes to define credentials?
  • How does Ontario compare? How does the institutional mix of other jurisdictions compare to Ontario's? How do quality assurance systems in other jurisdictions compare to Ontario's?

System design and differentiation

What is the institutional mix and to what extent is there differentiation?

With respect to differentiation, most jurisdictions examined differentiated their postsecondary systems by dividing them into sectors by approach to education (e.g., academic vs. applied sector), and/or by mandate (designation of fields of study for programs and credentials that they are authorized to deliver). The jurisdictions in our scan can be grouped into two categories:

Category one: differentiated academic sectors and homogenous applied sectors

The first category is jurisdictions with a differentiated university system and an undifferentiated vocational education system. These jurisdictions tend to have multiple “tiers” of universities – regional universities focused on teaching that normally offer programming up to the master's level; doctoral or research-intensive universities that produce a substantial amount of original research; and discipline-specific universities, such as a health and science university. By contrast, the college systems in these jurisdictions are relatively homogenous, generally offering both the first two years of baccalaureate degrees for transfer to university as well as applied, occupationally oriented programs for direct entry to the workforce. The US states and England are examples of this model.

Washington State, Oregon, and Wisconsin have regional teaching universities (also called comprehensive universities) and several flagship research-intensive universities. Wisconsin has a third tier of academic institutions, UW colleges, which provide the first two years of academic baccalaureate education and facilitate transfer into third year at UW four-year universities. Wisconsin also has an online university, called UW-Extension. Universities offer degrees in areas that could be termed “applied” such as health sciences, business, and technology.

In Washington, Wisconsin, and Oregon, all community colleges have a dual role of providing (1) occupational education at the sub-baccalaureate level and (2) regional access to the first two-years of university education, both applied and academic.

In England, universities provide a wide range of academic and professional education, while further education colleges provide the bulk of occupational programming.1 Although the government does not differentiate university institutions, many belong to associations, which share common interests and advocate on behalf of their members.

Category two: differentiated academic and applied sectors

The second category is jurisdictions with differentiated university and applied education sectors. These jurisdictions have multiple types of both universities and colleges, and tend to be more differentiated than the first category of jurisdictions above. B.C., Alberta and Ireland fall into this category. Alberta and B.C. use a multi-sector approach to differentiation. There are five sectors of institutions in B.C. and six sectors in Alberta, and each type of institution has a different mandate and different credential-granting authority. These include traditional community colleges, discipline-specific universities and institutions, applied education or teaching-intensive universities, and research-intensive universities. Both jurisdictions also have a designated online university.

Ireland currently has a system of differentiated universities and is moving towards a more differentiated applied education system. Institutes of technology offer the bulk of applied education, universities offer a wide range of academic programming, while colleges of education and other state-aided institutions specialize in providing discipline-specific programming. The landscape will soon feature “technological universities,” which will be the product of institutes of technology merging together into larger institutions with campuses in multiple locations. These new universities will specialize in advanced-level applied research.

Table 18 shows the two types of differentiation and how the jurisdictions examined fall into these types (bolded text denotes institutions that primarily deliver occupational education).

Table 18: Institutional differentiation in selected jurisdictions*
Jurisdiction Types of institutions   #   Jurisdiction Types of institutions   #  
Oregon Community and technical colleges   17 Alberta Community institutions   12
Technical and regional universities   4 Polytechnical institutions   2
Baccalaureate and applied studies institutions   2
Research universities   3 Arts and culture institutions   2
Oregon Health and Science university   1 Independent academic institutions   5
Academic research institutions   4
Washington State Community and technical Colleges   34 British Columbia Community and technical colleges   11
Comprehensive universities   4 Teaching universities   5
Research universities   2 Research universities   4
Special-purpose universities   2
Institutes   3
Wisconsin Wisconsin Technical Colleges   16 Ireland Institutes of technology   14
University of Wisconsin Colleges   13 Colleges of education   7
Research Universities   2 Universities   7
Comprehensive Universities   11 State-aided institutions   10
England Further education colleges   311 Technological universities (coming soon) ?
Higher education institutions   133
Ontario Colleges of applied arts and technology   21
Institutes of technology and advanced learning   3
Universities   20

* Note: Bold text indicates institutions that primarily deliver occupational education.

Institutional differentiation

Most jurisdictions examined use a postsecondary sector approach to differentiation, where institutions are grouped into categories with specific mandates and credential-granting authority. Two jurisdictions have gone further and instituted differentiation at the institution-level. Ireland (ongoing) and Alberta (2013) are using institutional differentiation policies to guide the postsecondary system forward. Ireland's differentiation policy resembles Ontario's approach, using multiple iterations of negotiations with individual institutions. Alberta recently conducted negotiations with individual institutions to set sector and institution-specific performance indicators.

Have institutional mandates changed over time?

Expansion of degree-granting authority to non-university institutions

From our scan, there is a clear trend towards expanding bachelor degree-granting authority to institutions that previously did not offer bachelor degree-level awards. Over the past fifteen years, the number of types of institutions with baccalaureate degree-granting authority has grown in all jurisdictions except Ireland, where institutes of technology were already offering degree-level education.

In B.C., AB, WA, and OR, community colleges received authority to grant applied baccalaureate degrees. In B.C., institutes (discipline-specific applied education institutions) and teaching universities (former colleges) received authority to grant applied master's degrees. In Wisconsin, two-year academic colleges received authority to offer four-year degrees in partnership with four-year universities. The degree is conferred by University of Wisconsin Colleges. In England, further education colleges increasingly deliver degree-level education in partnership with universities and are the primary providers of the new, two-year foundation degree.

Most jurisdictions are expanding the types of institutions that can offer degrees as a promising way to increase degree attainment of place-bound students, typically adults with prior education (BC, WA, WI OR, ENG). This is especially true in the US jurisdictions we studied, where there are relatively fewer research universities compared to the larger networks of teaching universities and community colleges, but with well-established student pathways from one sector to the other.

Enabling non-university institutions to offer degrees in applied fields of study was also seen by many jurisdictions as a promising way to respond to increased demand for higher-order applied skills (AB, B.C., WA, ENG), as well as for transferable or management skills (WI, OR). A third explanation for expanding degree-granting authority unique to B.C. was to improve the competitive position of its public institutions with expanding private and out-of-jurisdiction options.

Universities play a core and growing role in providing advanced applied education

Across all jurisdictions examined, it is common for universities to offer a wide range of applied programming, the bulk of which is in business, engineering and technology, and health; as well as applied education in specialized fields of study relevant to local or regional labour markets. While universities have long offered applied education in select fields of study, there appears to be a shift in the composition of new university programs towards applied and technical fields of study.

Although comparative data are unavailable by field of study for the jurisdictions examined in this report, a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report documents the expansion of degrees awarded in STEM fields of study (science, technology, engineering and math) over the past decade. From 2003 to 2012, the number of STEM credentials awarded in the U.S. grew by 55%, compared to 37% for non-STEM fields. Furthermore, the growth in STEM credentials was driven by occupational fields in the health sector, such as nursing, while credentials awarded in more academically oriented sciences, such as math, stagnated (GAO, 2014).

As universities continue to provide more applied education, and non-university institutions increasingly receive degree-granting authority, it appears as though the traditional lines between academic and applied education sectors are blurring. These blurred lines are embodied in institutions such as the newly proposed “technological universities” in Ireland; teaching universities and institutes in B.C., and baccalaureate and applied studies institutions in Alberta.

Institutional collaboration in credential delivery

Within the context of these blurred lines, collaboration between applied and academic institutions is increasingly common. In the US, colleges and universities are collaborating to deliver “2+2” applied BAs; the university component of the credential normally focuses on (1) generic educational requirements or (2) management-level education. Colleges also offer the first two years of academic programs under a 2+2 model, and are also often mandated to offer complete degree programs in specific occupational fields such as Education and Nursing, and other applied fields where there is a regional need for degree-level graduates.

In the U.K., university and further education colleges are partners in the delivery of Foundation degrees. The university monitors the quality and awards the credential, but the delivery agent is the college. As part of the arrangement, the university overseeing the degree must identify at least one pathway agreement (i.e., a “2+1”) into a university degree for foundation degree graduates. In AB and BC, robust credit transfer systems in place facilitate pathways from shorter to longer credential programs (2+2) and provide recognition for prior applied education.

How does the institutional mix of other jurisdictions compare to Ontario's?

Differentiation in Ontario

Where does Ontario fall? Compared to the jurisdictions observed, Ontario has a relatively bifurcated postsecondary system, with colleges and universities each playing distinct roles in postsecondary delivery. Within these two broad sectors, Ontario has fewer formally differentiated types of applied and academic institutions. Most jurisdictions (OR, WA, WI, AB, and B.C.) have two or more types of universities, and three jurisdictions (AB, B.C., IR) have or will soon have multiple types of applied institutions. In Ontario, Colleges are differentiated in that all colleges are established as Colleges of Applied Art and Technology (CAATs), and a small subset have been differentiated as Institutes of Technology and Advanced Learning (ITALs) under regulation, which allows for differentiated institutional name and expanded degree activity. A further significant difference in Ontario is the lack of a tradition of student mobility between the college and university sectors until quite recently. This lack of mobility is to some extent the result of the original designation of colleges programs as applied, vocational education operating at the diploma rather than the degree level.

We note, however, that although Ontario has fewer formally differentiated sectors, Ontario's postsecondary system has some differentiating elements similar to those in other jurisdictions. Many of Ontario's postsecondary institutions have developed expertise in specialized fields of study, and some institutions are legislated to specialize in certain types of programming. However, there is currently no consensus within the postsecondary domain as to whether program expertise alone constitutes a form of differentiation.

A second key difference between the applied sector in Ontario and applied sectors in most other North American jurisdictions observed (B.C., AB, WA, OR) is that the applied sector (mostly community colleges) in these jurisdictions has a dual mandate to provide (1) applied education and (2) transfer education in arts and sciences for student entry into academic institutions. While Ontario colleges are encouraged to develop more opportunities for college graduates to apply their learning toward the completion of a degree in a related field of study (especially with the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer now established to coordinate credit transfer across multiple colleges and/or universities), the colleges are not, and have never been mandated to offer degree-level arts and sciences courses for transfer into university programs, or to offer the first two years of occupationally-oriented degree programs.

Government role

How centralized or decentralized are the jurisdictions observed in this report? We observe a higher degree of centralization in the U.S. than in Canadian provinces, England and Ireland. Specifically:

  • Washington, Wisconsin, and Oregon have centralized state-college systems; Washington and Oregon have independent, decentralized university systems (Oregon is transitioning from a state-system), while Wisconsin has a centralized state university system.
  • England, Ireland, B.C. and Alberta have decentralized, autonomous applied institutions and universities.

The centralized/decentralized typology is not always helpful when characterizing the relative autonomy of institutions. While centralized systems tend to have a more coordinated approach to system-level planning, jurisdictions with independent institutions have policy levers to shape the direction of the postsecondary system, primarily through legislation and policy directives, program approval processes and requirements for receipt of public funding.

For example, B.C., Alberta and Ireland have independent postsecondary institutions but centralized, government-led program approval and quality assurance processes. These three jurisdictions also have relatively differentiated postsecondary institutions, with each sector receiving its mandate and credential-granting authority from government.

Compared to the jurisdictions observed, Ontario universities are highly autonomous and colleges have been granted significantly greater freedom in program offerings within the mandated credentials in the past decade. The mandate of colleges as defined through the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002 is

To offer a comprehensive program of career-oriented, post-secondary education and training to assist individuals in finding and keeping employment, to meet the needs of employers and the changing work environment and to support the economic and social development of their local and diverse communities.

Colleges may offer programs in any career-oriented field of study as long as they can clearly demonstrate student need, labour market demand and employer need. They are also required to define and meet specified program learning outcomes but have flexibility in the design of curriculum to achieve those outcomes.

One notable difference between Ontario and other jurisdictions is the role of government in program approval (as distinct from funding approval) for postsecondary programs. Ontario is unique among jurisdictions scanned in that universities and colleges have self-regulating quality assurance and program approval processes (except for the college degree), managed through the Ontario College Quality Assurance Service and the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance.

Credential mix

What is the credential mix in other jurisdictions?

In assessing the credential mix in each jurisdiction, we found that North American jurisdictions have similar credential mixes. This includes less than one-year and one-year certificates, two-year vocational qualifications, two-year academic transfer degrees (associate degrees) that provide entry to the 3rd year of university, and four-year degrees in applied and academic fields of study. Two-year vocational programs are called Applied Associate degrees in WA, WI, and OR, and diplomas in B.C. and AB.

One key difference between U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions is the presence of career pathways certificates. In the U.S., career pathways certificates are short-term (generally less than ½ year) stackable credentials within existing applied programs that provide multiple entry and exit points for learners. We observed career pathways certificates in WA, WI and OR.

In terms of the composition of credentials awarded, North American jurisdictions are also broadly similar. (For detailed data on the types of credentials awarded, see the jurisdictional scans in Appendix A.) Significant proportions of students in B.C., AB, WA, WI, and OR are enrolled in programs with durations of one year or less, two years and four years. Certificate programs constituted between 13% and 35% of undergraduate credentials awarded. Two-year programs constituted between 20% and 37% of undergraduate credentials awarded, and Bachelor's degrees between 32% and 51%.2

England's and Ireland's credential mix also feature one- and two-year programs. England's primary two-year credential, Foundation degrees, place an emphasis on workplace learning, as do Applied Associate degrees in North America. At the Bachelor's degree level, England has a three-year honours degree, while Ireland has three-year “ordinary” degrees and four-year honours degrees.

Neither jurisdiction distinguishes between applied and academic Bachelor's degrees, but Bachelor's degrees are awarded in applied fields of study. We should note that in England the honours status reflects a student's grade-point achievement, which is a narrower interpretation of the honours status than in Ontario. There are multiple categories of honours (first, upper-second, lower-second, and third), as well as an “ordinary degree.” The ordinary degree is not common, and in some cases is used by institutions to award a credential to students that do not meet the grade cut-offs for an honours degree. By contrast, the ordinary degree in Ireland is more common and a stand-alone credential, although students who complete ordinary degrees in Ireland typically require an additional year of study before entering graduate studies.

A key distinction between Bachelor degrees in England and Ireland and Bachelor degrees in Ontario is the depth and breadth requirements of the degree curriculum. The Ontario Qualifications Framework's descriptor “Depth and Breadth of Knowledge” for the Bachelor's (Bachelor's: Honours) degree states students should have: “a broad (developed) understanding of some (many) of the major fields in a discipline, including, where appropriate, from an interdisciplinary perspective, and how the fields may intersect with fields in related disciplines.” By contrast, the UK Quality Code's describes the honours degree as being awarded to students who demonstrate “a systematic understanding of key aspects of their field of study,” and the Irish three-year degree standard states students will have “specialized knowledge across a variety of areas.”

In England and Ireland, the majority of undergraduate credentials awarded are Bachelor's degrees. Excluding post-Bachelor's programs, in 2012/13, Bachelor's degrees accounted for 77% of undergraduate credentials in England and 88% of undergraduate credentials in Ireland. One and two-year programs play a much smaller role in post-secondary education in these two countries. The primary reason for the small proportion of short-duration postsecondary programs is that vocational education is primarily provided at the upper-secondary level, and generally not considered part of postsecondary education.

How does Ontario's credential mix compare?

Ontario's credential mix is similar to the North American jurisdictions we observed. With the exception of career pathways certificates, Ontario's vocational qualifications, including the applied bachelor's degree, strongly resemble the mix offered in B.C., AB, WA, WI, and OR. Ontario's ordinary and honours Bachelor's degree structure somewhat resembles Ireland and England's degree credentials; however, as detailed in the subsection above, Ontario degree standards emphasize more depth and breadth of knowledge than do European degree standards.

Figure 70: Credentials awarded in selected jurisdiction

Depicts the credentials awarded in the selected jurisdictions

*One type of certificate is similar to Ontario college certificate; other is equivalent to first 2 years of Bachelor's degree.

**One type of post-degree certificate is at Bachelor's degree level (<1 yr); other is at Master's level (1 -2 yrs).

*** One type of certificate is similar to Ontario college certificate (1 yr); other is similar to Ontario college diploma (2 yrs).

****One type of post-degree certificate is at the Honours degree level; other is at Master's level.

Note: the term “Applied Bachelor's degree” refers to degrees that have the term “Applied” as part of their nomenclature and/or is the common term given to the credential in a jurisdiction. Ireland and England do not specify an “Applied” degree-level credential, however applied education does make up a substantial proportion of degree-level education in these jurisdictions.

Have new labour market focused credentials been recently introduced?

A key trend across almost all jurisdictions analyzed is an expansion of applied credential offerings. Almost all jurisdictions have introduced at least one new credential with an applied focus in the past 15 years. We identified four types of recently introduced applied credentials:

  • Four year applied Bachelor's degrees: B.C. (1995, 2003); AB (1998); WA (2007); WI (2007; 2013) and OR (2012)
  • Two year applied degrees: B.C. (pending 2015); ENG (2001)
  • Applied Master's degrees: B.C. (2003)
  • Career Pathways certificates: WA (2006); WI (2007); OR (2007)

In this subsection we describe the core features of these credentials, including their rationale, delivery institution, program structure, transfer options and curricular and learning standards. Given Colleges Ontario's proposal to offer three-year degrees, we also profile the three-year Bachelor's degrees in Ireland and England, although they are significantly different from the three-year degree proposal in Ontario. See Appendix B for an overview of the key similarities and differences in the credentials across jurisdictions. For detailed descriptions of newly introduced applied credentials, see the jurisdictional scans in Appendix A.

Four year applied Bachelor's degrees

These degree programs are offered in all but one jurisdiction in our scan (England). These programs provide advanced study in career or technical fields, and typically include work-integrated learning in the form of work placements. Programs are delivered by institutions with a more vocational/non-academic focus, such as colleges, polytechnic institutes, technical universities, and teaching universities. These programs were introduced in most jurisdictions to increase degree attainment among place-bound students and/or to meet employers' needs for advanced technical skills. In the US, these degrees are extensions of the two-year Associate degree (i.e., part of a 2+2 model). In almost all jurisdictions, these degree programs also include a general education focus. (Appendix B, Table 21 compares the four-year applied degrees across jurisdictions.)

From the jurisdictions we examined that have recently implemented applied degrees, we observe two distinct implementation approaches. Some jurisdictions (BC, AB, WA) enabled all colleges to award the applied credential. Other jurisdictions (WI, OR) implemented the credential at a subset of institutions. These jurisdictions have only recently begun to offer the applied credential (WI: 2007/2013; OR: 2012); as a result, it is unclear if the applied degree will become a system-wide feature.

Publically available data are scarce on applied degrees awarded. In the U.S. jurisdictions examined, applied baccalaureate degrees were growing, but still in their infancy, and make up a very small proportion of total degrees awarded. In WA, 513 FTEs were enrolled in applied Bachelor's programs in 2012/13. In Wisconsin, the Bachelor of applied arts and science program enrolled 53 students in fall 2013, its first year of operation. Wisconsin's other applied degree, the Bachelor's of applied studies, enrolled 357 students at the UW Green Bay campus. Oregon only recently introduced the credential, and no data are available.

Applied Bachelor's degrees were introduced much earlier in the Canadian jurisdictions observed and are at a much larger scale than those offered in WA, OR, and WI. In Alberta, demand for the applied Bachelor's degree grew steadily until 2005/06.3 They accounted for 708 (4%) of all Bachelor degrees awarded in 2012/13, down from 1118 (7%) in 2008/09. Since the introduction of the applied Bachelor's degree at B.C. community colleges in 2003, the number of applied degrees awarded by colleges grew to 1,030 in 2011/12, or 5% of total Bachelor's degrees awarded. Institutes, teaching universities, and special-purpose universities also offer applied degrees, so the total proportion of degrees in applied fields of study is likely higher than 5%.

Box 6: How do applied degrees compare to 4-year academic degrees in other jurisdictions?

  • Most applied 4-year degrees had similar general education requirements as academic 4-year degrees, although one (AB) required slightly fewer credits.
  • Some of the 4-year degrees observed (WA, WI, OR) are extensions of two-year applied or academic programs; others (B.C., AB, IR) are standalone four-year programs, but may have pathways from shorter programs.
  • In AB, and B.C., quality assurance standards differentiate between faculty standards for applied and academic degree programs. Notably, applied degree programs tend to emphasize the need for faculty with substantial work experience in the relevant field of study and up-to-date accreditations.
  • Some applied degrees (IR, WI, OR) allow students to enter graduate studies; others (AB, B.C., WSH) are intended to be terminal degrees.

Three-year degrees

The only jurisdictions in our scan that offer three-year degrees in applied fields of study are Ireland and England. We are not aware of any jurisdiction in North America where three-year labour market focused degrees are a prominent feature of the credential mix.4

In Ontario, three-year degrees are mainly in academic fields of study, such as humanities, science, mathematics, and languages (based on an analysis of program offerings for 2014-15 academic year). In contrast, the degrees in Ireland are largely in applied fields of study: roughly 80% of all three-year degrees awarded are in applied areas of study (based on data on credentials awarded in Ireland for academic years 2010-11 to 2012-13). In England, the three-year degree is the only type of Bachelor's degree conferred by universities, and can be in both applied and academic fields of study. (See Appendix B for a comparison of England and Ireland's three-year degrees). In both countries, no distinction is made between applied and academic Bachelor degrees; however, we do know that Ireland's institutes of technology play a substantial role in awarding both three-year and four-year degrees. In 2012/13, Ireland's institutes of technology accounted for 52% (18,079) of Bachelor's degrees and 16% (1,813) of all Master's and PhDs conferred. The three-year degrees, called Ordinary Bachelor's degrees, are almost exclusively offered by IOTs. They accounted for 43% (7,839) Bachelor degrees conferred by IOTs in 2012/13. By contrast, Ireland's universities only award four-year Honour's degrees. One key distinction between Ireland and England's three-year Bachelor's degrees is that most of Ireland's three-year programs articulate into their four-year Honour's degrees.

Two-year applied degrees

England introduced a two-year applied degree in 2001, called the Foundation degree; and B.C. is currently developing a new two-year applied degree-level credential, called the Applied Associate degree. Foundation degrees were introduced in England to address shortages in intermediate-level skills in the labour market and to increase postsecondary education attainment. Programs integrate academic and work-based learning, and are designed and delivered through close collaboration between further education colleges, universities, and employers. Further education colleges and universities jointly provide training, but the credential is awarded by the university.

Students keep track of their learning development with a Personal Development Plan, a portfolio that requires students to reflect on their learning experience. Foundation degrees provide flexible delivery options for students, including part-time, online and work-place delivery. An additional requirement is that foundation degree programs must articulate into at least one Honour's degree, and students should be able to complete the additional study in a maximum of 1.3 years. Appendix B highlights the core features of England's foundation degree.

Over the past ten years foundation degrees have become a fully scaled credential, widely recognized across the UK. Foundation degrees awarded grew from just over 1,000 in 2003 to 25,240 in 2013. The most recent enrolment data available (2009-10) show that 99,450 students were enrolled in foundation degrees. They now constitute over 50% of two-year program enrolment. Higher national diplomas and certificates were already in decline prior to the foundation degree; this pace was accelerated due to the conversion of many vocational diploma and certificate programs into foundation degrees (Harvey, 2009).

Applied Master's degrees

B.C. introduced the Applied Master's degree in 2003 in an effort to increase participation in graduate studies for place-bound students and mid-career learners, and to meet employer demand for higher-order applied skills. Teaching universities as well as institutes can confer the credential. The degree is not designed to provide entry to doctoral programs. Programs focus on an advanced level of employment related practices and knowledge directly linked to labour market need. The programs aim to provide a balance between theory and practical instruction, and a level of intellectual challenge comparable to existing graduate studies. Appendix B highlights the core features of B.C.'s applied master's degree.

We did not identify any data sources or published documents that report on Applied Master's degrees awarded. B.C. does not distinguish between regular and applied Master's in its data reporting, and annual graduate surveys are only conducted at the undergraduate level.

Career Pathways certificates

Introduced in community and technical colleges in Oregon, Washington State and Wisconsin in the mid-2000s, Career Pathways certificates aim to improve access to and progression in postsecondary education for individuals with lower skills. Career pathway certificates are granted upon completion of a subset of courses within existing Certificate and Associate degree programs. These are short, intensive programs that are typically less than half-year in duration. Colleges work with industry to ensure that programs are offered in in-demand occupations and result in industry-recognized credentials. In Washington State, CP programs are only approved if they are on a short-list of occupational fields deemed to be in growing demand. Appendix B compares the core features of career pathways certificates in WA, WI, and OR.

Data on the number of career pathway programs available, as well as student enrolment and completion, are scarce. However, career pathways are clearly growing.

  • In Wisconsin, The number of career pathways programs grew from 44 in 2011 to 72 in 2012; roughly 3,000 students have completed a bridging program since 2007.
  • In Washington, the number of FTE enrolments in I-BEST courses more than doubled to 1,749 in 2012/13 since its inception in 2006.
  • In Oregon, career pathways are quickly becoming the norm for sub-associate degree certificates, increasing over 400% in certificates awarded between 2008/09 and 2011/12; CCPCs made up 70% of all short-term certificates in 2011-12, up from 47% in 2008-09 (DCCWD, 2013).

For new credentials, what do we know about the outcomes of graduates?

Considerations around expanding or introducing new credentials in Ontario similar to those in other jurisdictions should be informed by an examination of the available evidence on the effectiveness of these new credentials for achieving student learning, satisfaction and employment outcomes.

To our knowledge, no impact analyses have been conducted of applied degree-level credentials in other jurisdictions. Graduate outcome data are available for applied degree holders in WA, B.C., AB, and WI. The data are mostly from annual graduate surveys. In addition, the I-BEST credential in Washington has been formally evaluated. We summarize the evidence from each jurisdiction below.

Outcomes of applied Bachelor's degree holders are similar to outcomes of traditional degree holders, but data limitations prevent rigorous analysis

We identified data on employment and satisfaction outcomes of applied degree holders in four jurisdictions. Two jurisdictions (AB and WA) recently conducted outcome evaluations of their applied Bachelor's degrees using annual graduate surveys. Two other jurisdictions (B.C., WI) did not conduct outcome evaluations but do publish graduate survey data that allow us to compare the employment outcomes of applied and academic degree holders.

The duration between graduation and the survey varies by jurisdiction, so the data below are not meant to be compared across jurisdictions. We do not attempt to control for underlying variables that may impact employment and other outcome variables, so the data should be read with caution. This is especially true when comparing applied and academic degree programs, since (1) field of study and (2) characteristics of the student population may vary dramatically between academic and applied programs. Students entering applied programs are often older than their academic program counterparts and may have prior work experience. Secondly, applied programs are often tightly aligned with the labour market, and thus may produce higher returns in the years shortly after graduation compared to academic programs.

Given the limitations, there is no way to rigorously compare the outcomes of graduates from applied and academic degree programs. With these caveats in mind, we summarize key findings below and in Table 19 on the following page.

  • In the four jurisdictions with outcomes data, three jurisdictions compared earnings of applied degree and academic degree holders. In these jurisdictions (WA, AB, B.C.), applied degree holders earned slightly more than their academic degree counterparts; 4% higher in Wisconsin, 6% higher in Alberta, 8% higher in B.C.
  • In B.C., ninety-one percent of 2011 applied degree graduates reported that their current employment was “very” or “somewhat” related to their program of study two years post-graduation; compared to 69% for academic degrees.

BC and Alberta measured student satisfaction of those with applied and academic degrees; graduates of applied degrees were equally or slightly more satisfied with their programs than academic Bachelor's degree holders in B.C. (2011) and Alberta (2009/10).

Table 19: Overview of outcome surveys of applied degrees
  Wisconsin Washington State Alberta British Columbia
Credential Bachelor of Applied Studies The Bachelor of Applied Sciences (Applied Baccalaureate) Applied Bachelor degree Applied Bachelor's degree
Timeframe Graduates of 2012; 0-1.5 years post-graduation. Graduates of 2010 and 2011; 1.75-2 years post-graduation Graduates of 2009/10;

2 years post-graduation
Graduates of 2011; 2 years post-graduation
We use graduate outcome survey data to compare the labour-market outcomes of 2012 Bachelor of Applied Studies holders compared to the rest of Bachelor degree graduates from UW Green Bay. The Washington State college board evaluated the Applied Bachelor of Science program in August 2013. The evaluation presents cross-sectional data on the enrolment, completion, employment and earnings of various sub-groups of students and in various regions of Washington State. In 2011 the government conducted a review of the Applied Bachelor degree using survey data from its 2007/08 Post-Secondary Graduate Outcomes Survey. The evaluation compared a range of graduate labour market, further study and satisfaction indicators for applied and non-applied Baccalaureate degree holders, two years after graduation. We use graduate outcome survey data to compare the satisfaction and labour-market outcomes of Applied and Academic Bachelor degree holders two years after graduation.
Findings Labour-market outcomes
• 72% of 2012 BAS graduate respondents were employed at the time of taking the survey, compared to 71% of all other Bachelor degree programs.
• 22% of BAS graduate respondents were pursuing graduate studies, compared to 26% of all other Bachelor degree programs.
• The average salary of BAS graduate respondents was $39,664, compared to $38,290 for all programs (including the BAS program).
Labour market outcomes.
• Earnings and employment of 2010 and 2011 applied BA graduates varied widely by program. Employment two years after program completion varied from a low of 72% (Hospitality Management) to a high of 100% (Business Management). Median program wages varied from a low of $25,361 (Applied Design) to a high of $85,396 (Radiology).
• Five programs kept track of earnings pre and post program. Of these programs, post-program wages (measured seven quarters after graduation) were $8,495 (26%) higher than student pre-program wages (WSBCTC, 2013f).
• Graduates from applied degree programs were more satisfied with their program, teachers, and overall quality of their educational experience, than all other credential types. Of applied degree holders, 93.2% were satisfied with teaching quality; 92.1% were satisfied with the program; and 95.1% were satisfied with the overall quality of their educational experience. Statistics for other credentials were not listed.

Labour-market outcomes:
• Applied degree holders had a median salary of $50,000 and average salary of $46,980. Comparatively, non-applied degree holders had a mean salary of $46,000 and average salary of $44,348
• The gap between male and female salaries is less for applied degree holders than for non-applied degree holders. For applied degrees, females earned $3,765 less than their male counterparts, compared to $8,807 for non-applied Bachelor's degrees.
• The proportion of applied degree graduates who rated the quality of program instruction “very good” or “good” was 93%, compared to 94% for Academic degrees.
• The proportion of applied degree graduates who were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” was 96%, compared to 92% for Academic degrees.

Labour-market outcomes
• Ninety-eight percent of 2011 applied degree graduates were employed in 2013 compared to 92% of Academic degree graduates.
• Ninety-one percent of 2011 Applied degree graduates reported that their current employment was “very” or “somewhat” related to their program of study; compared to 69% for Academic degrees.
• The average wage of the 2011 applied degree cohort in 2013 was $55,950, roughly 8% higher than the average wage of the 2013 Academic degree cohort ($51,708).

Strong but limited evidence suggests that Career Pathways graduates achieve better outcomes than their peers

The only available evidence for Career Pathways programs comes from Washington State's I-BEST program model. The Community College Research Center (CCRC) of Columbia University evaluated the I-BEST program model in 2009 to estimate the model's impact on student success and progression through post-secondary education by comparing the outcomes of I-BEST students with non-I-BEST students who had similar observable characteristics enrolled in the 2006-07 academic year. A second study in 2010 examined the academic and labour market outcomes of I-BEST students enrolled in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Summary of 2009 evaluation findings:

I-BEST students fare much better than their peers in terms of course completion and credit attainment:

  • The probability of an I-BEST student completing at least one college course was 90%, compared to 67% of matched non I-BEST students.
  • I-BEST students earned an average of 52 quarter credits (just over one year of coursework), compared to an estimated 34 quarter credits of students in the matched group.
  • The probability of an I-BEST student earning a credential was 55%, compared to 15% for the matched group (Jenkins et al., 2009).

Summary of 2010 evaluation findings:

I-BEST was associated with improvements in all academic variables except student persistence, including whether a student earned a college credit, the total number of credits earned, gains in essential skills, and whether a student completes a credential. The analysis found that students who attended I-BEST colleges “were 7.5 percentage points more likely to earn a certificate within three years and almost 10 percentage points more likely to earn at least one college credit, relative to students in similar courses that did not receive integrated essential skills training.” (Zeidenberg et al., 2010, p. 2)

The I-BEST model had no impact on employment or hours worked. The authors note, however, that all students entered the labour market during the recession (Zeidenberg et al., 2010).

The findings provide strong evidence that well-designed, short-term contextualized programs make learning “stick,” ultimately improving post-secondary access and success for low-skilled adults.

Have there been innovations in credential delivery?

Articulating skills

Alongside the creation of new applied credentials, we observed initiatives to provide more options for a workforce oriented education within existing credentials through innovations in delivery, principally through initiatives to articulate students' skills and increase opportunities for work-integrated learning. The jurisdictions we examined all featured examples of initiatives to help students articulate and reflect upon the skills they were learning.

  • In all five North American jurisdictions, we found at least one example of a program that had experimented with e-portfolios.
  • Both England and Ireland are part of the European Higher Education Area's Europass project — which involves credential supplements, and a CV documenting skills acquired both formally and informally.
  • In nearly all jurisdictions (excluding Ireland) we found at least one program that had included a digital badge component as part of the curriculum.

For more details on these initiatives, see Appendix A.

Work-integrated learning and employer partnerships

In the US and European jurisdictions we found new policy emphasis and varying stages of implementation of increases (or significant new initiatives) in work-integrated learning:

  • In the United States, the global trend towards increasing WIL has only recently been announced as a policy priority, and we did not find evidence that new or expanded programs have been implemented in the jurisdictions we surveyed.
  •  In England, the new “higher apprenticeships” represent the most ambitious expansion of WIL currently being implemented, which as of August 2014 had created apprenticeships in 40 new occupations at the equivalent of foundation, bachelor's and master's levels. For more details on higher apprenticeships in England, see Appendix A.
  • In November 2014, Ireland announced the creation of a new Apprenticeships Council with a mandate that includes increasing the number of occupations in which apprenticeships are offered (Department of Education and Skills, 2014).

We did not find evidence of new WIL initiatives in British Columbia or Alberta. In terms of BC and Alberta's current status, a recent survey found that co-op programs were slightly less common than in Ontario — 11 percent of Alberta students, and 15 percent of BC students said they had participated in a co-op, compared to 21 percent of Ontario students (Usher & Kramer, 2011). According to the latest National Household Survey both BC (5.6 percent) and Alberta (7.6 percent) were above the Canadian average (4.9 percent) in terms of the proportion of the population aged 25 to 64 whose highest educational attainment was a registered apprenticeship certificate (Statscan, 2011).

Apart from the new higher apprenticeships in England, we did not observe any employer partnerships in any jurisdictions comparable to those being undertaken by German consortia in South Carolina and Michigan. However, a new program being launched by Siemens in Ontario and Alberta, the Siemens Canada Engineering Technology Academy, is an example of this kind of deep partnership. Engineering and engineering technician students at five institutions (University of Waterloo, McMaster, Mohawk College, the University of Alberta, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) will have the chance to complete several co-op terms at Siemens, while Siemens pays their final two years of traditional education in exchange for a four year commitment to work for the company after graduation (Siemens Canada, 2014). Some other examples of promising employer partnership models in Ontario include IBM's Employment Pathways for Interns and Co-ops (EPIC) and the Cisco Networking Academy Program, both of which represent more significant investments from employers than a typical co-op program.

Quality and learning outcomes

How do other jurisdictions assure the quality of new and existing programming?

Most college and some university systems require approval to offer new degree programs

Table 20 shows the type of entity that is responsible for approving new degree programs in the selected jurisdictions and Ontario. As the table shows, in all jurisdictions examined, the central authority approving new programs is either an arms-length agency of the government or a government department/ministry.

In the U.S. jurisdictions we examined, the state agency responsible for the community college system approves all new programs. For universities, Wisconsin and Oregon require approval from a central authority (in Wisconsin, the UW System Board, and in Oregon the State Board for Higher Education);5 Washington State universities do not require central approval.

In Ireland, Institutes of Technology require approval from Qualifications and Quality Ireland to offer new programs. Ireland and England's universities do not require central approval to offer new programs, provided they are within the university's degree awarding powers.

B.C. and Alberta require Ministry approval for new degree-level programs, and often seek the expert advice of their quality assurance agencies when making approval decisions. In B.C., the Minister approves all new degree-level programs, while sub-degree (associate degree and below) only require approval from the institution's board of governors. In Alberta, the Minister approves all new programs. In B.C. and Alberta, the Ministry also conducts “system coordination reviews” prior to reviewing detailed proposals. The coordination review is to ensure efficient system-wide programming and that new program proposals align with the institution's mandate.

Table 20: Degree program approval entities for college and university sectors by jurisdiction
Entity responsible for approving new degree programs
Jurisdiction University College or Institute of Technology
Alberta Ministry approval required (includes system coordination review) Minister approval required (includes system coordination review)
British Columbia Ministry approval required Minister approval required (includes system coordination review)
Oregon State agency approval required State agency approval required
Washington State No government approval State agency approval required
Wisconsin State agency approval required State agency approval required
England No government approval No government approval
Ireland No government approval State agency approval required
Ontario Approval required from Independent body
of the Council of Ontario Universities: Ontario Universities Council of Quality Assurance (OUCQA).
Minister approval required

Community colleges seeking to offer degree programs are generally subject to additional approval processes compared to established universities

In general, community colleges offering degrees are subject to additional approval processes compared to established universities. From the jurisdictions we observed, the additional processes are administered centrally, either by the government or by the state agency responsible for the community college system. These additional processes can be broken into two categories.

The first type of additional process is to assure the quality of degrees offered. In most jurisdictions, community colleges have only recently begun to offer applied degrees. As such, additional approval processes are designed to ensure that these institutions have the appropriate capacity (faculty, facilities and resources) to deliver degree-level education. In jurisdictions where colleges do not have bicameral governance structures (e.g., WA), the central approval process can also serve as a useful second layer of critical analysis, normally provided by the senate at a university.

In Washington and Ireland, colleges seeking to offer Bachelor's degrees must be approved by a central body, while universities do not require approval. Until 2012, Washington's Student Achievement Council (WSAC) approved all new university programs. For the first five years after community colleges were granted authority to offer applied degrees, both the college state board and WSAC jointly approved new programs. The purpose of the joint evaluation was to build the capacity of the community college sector to approve their own degree programs. Now, the college state board approves new degree programs independently.6

The second type of additional approval process is to prevent mission creep and service duplication of university degrees.7

In B.C., colleges seeking to deliver applied Bachelor's degrees undergo a system coordination review, where they must provide evidence of student and employer demand for the new program, and the program fit with the institution's mission/strategic plan; and justify any duplication of programs already offered by other institutions. Aside from this system coordination review, though, program approval processes are similar for colleges and universities. Institutions that have been successfully granting a degree-level credential for 10 years or more may apply for “exempt” status, which allows the institution to bypass the detailed program approval process conducted by the Degree Quality Assessment Board and seek approval directly from the Minister. Most universities have exempt status up to the Master's or Doctoral level; colleges have only recently become eligible to apply for exempt status (colleges received degree-granting status in 2003). No college has yet applied for exempt status. Thus, the differential effort required for program approval in B.C. is a function of institutional maturity.

In Alberta, research universities are exempt from organizational reviews, which are normally part of the program approval process.

Box 7: Mechanisms for preventing mission creep and program duplication

In jurisdictions we examined, community colleges in WA, B.C., and AB have recently begun to offer Bachelor's-level credentials. In these jurisdictions, there was concern that allowing colleges to offer degree-level programming may lead to mission creep and duplication of existing university programming. To prevent mission creep, colleges offering degrees in WA, AB, and B.C. are restricted to offering degrees in applied areas of study. This principle is enforced through a variety of mechanisms:

  • In Washington, all applied degrees must ladder directly from a two-year applied associate degree. As a result, all new degree programs form part of an educational pathway for students. In B.C. and Alberta, laddering relevant certificates and diplomas into applied degrees is encouraged, but not mandatory.
  • In B.C., all new applied degree programs offered by colleges and applied master's degrees offered by institutes and teaching universities undergo a “system coordination review,” by the ministry prior to the detailed program approval process. This is to ensure labour-market demand, fit with institutional mission and prevent mission creep.
  • In Alberta, all applied and academic degrees undergo a system coordination review to determine the “fit” with programming currently offered in the province.

A single organization is responsible for overseeing quality assurance for both colleges and universities in each of the jurisdictions examined

Table 21 shows the organizations responsible for ongoing quality assurance oversight in each of the jurisdictions examined. As shown, we identified two main types of organizations: arms-length government agencies (Alberta, British Columbia, England, and Ireland), and regional accreditation authorities (Oregon, Washington State, and Wisconsin). In all jurisdictions examined above, there is only one agency or body responsible for quality assurance of post-secondary institutions. Ontario's system of three separate quality assurance bodies and processes is unique.

Table 21: Organizations responsible for quality assurance monitoring by jurisdiction
Organization responsible for ongoing quality assurance monitoring



College or Institute of
Technology (IoT)

Same organization for both universities and colleges/IoTs?

Alberta Arms-length government agency Arms-length government agency/board


British Columbia Arms-length government agency Arms-length government agency/board


Oregon Regional accreditation authority Regional accreditation authority


Washington State Regional accreditation authority Regional accreditation authority


Wisconsin Regional accreditation authority Regional accreditation authority


England Arms-length government agency Arms-length government agency


Ireland Arms-length government agency Arms-length government agency


Ontario Independent body of the Council of Ontario
Universities (OUCQA).
Government board (degrees); independent body of Colleges Ontario (advanced diplomas and below, OCQAS)


In the U.S., accreditation agencies conduct cyclical audits (roughly every 7-10 years) of individual institutions to assure their capacity and capability to offer programming. The audits feature a combination of self-studies, external peer reviews and site visits.

In Ireland the Department of Education and Skills recently consolidated several bodies responsible for quality assurance into one agency (Qualifications and Quality Ireland) to oversee the system, and is currently reviewing and updating its quality assurance processes. In England, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) conducts cyclical institutional audits. The QAA review is repeated on a 4-6 year cycle, depending on the outcome of the previous review.

Alberta requires post-secondary institutions to conduct cyclical reviews of individual programs every 5-7 years, which are submitted to the Campus Alberta Quality Council. B.C. currently does not have a cyclical program or institutional review process administered or monitored by government, although a key component of the initial program approval process is for institutions to demonstrate cyclical internal and external program review procedures are in place for the program.

One key difference between Ontario and the other jurisdictions examined is the approach to monitoring quality of college-delivered Bachelor's degrees. Ontario colleges offering these degrees do so under ministerial consent, and colleges must reapply for Ministerial consent every 5-7 years. The Minister may reject a renewal application, refer the renewal application to the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB), an arms-length government agency, or refer the application to another quality assurance body. By contrast, degrees awarded by colleges in the jurisdictions we examined (B.C., AB, IR, WA) are only subject to regular quality review procedures.

Box 8: Ontario's postsecondary education quality assurance system

As mentioned above, Ontario has three quality assurance agencies: the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB), the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance (OUCQA) and the Ontario College Quality Assurance Service (OCQAS).

  • PEQAB is an arms-length government board whose mandate is to assess applications that seek to offer degree programs or use the term “university” in their title. Most Ontario publically funded universities have full statutory degree granting authority, so PEQAB is chiefly responsible for college degree and out-of-province institutions. (Note: Universities with expanded or new degree granting authority must also have their programs approved by PEQAB.) In addition to degree level standards, Colleges are assessed against these two requirements: Economic need, defined as “the program is designed so that graduates will fill an identified economic need,” and non-duplication of programs, defined as “the program does not duplicate programs offered by Ontario universities or unfairly raises diploma-level credentials to degree-level credentials.”
  • OUCQA is an independent organization that evaluates proposed and existing credentials offered by Ontario universities, and audits Ontario universities' quality assurance practices. Each university has the autonomy to develop its own quality assurance processes based on standards and guidelines established by the OUCQA.
  • OCQAS is an independent organization that evaluates proposed credentials by Ontario colleges, and audits Ontario colleges' quality assurance practices. The OCQAS operates the Credential Validation Service (CVS), which reviews any proposed college-level credentials (excluding degrees)
  • OCQAS also operates the Program Quality Assurance Process Audit (PQAPA), which is a cyclical audit of college quality assurance processes.
  • Both OUCQA and OCQAS are funded by their members. PEQAB is funded by the government and through fees for service.

In all jurisdictions examined, government plays a principal role in defining and monitoring education quality standards

In all jurisdictions examined for this report, the government plays a central role in defining and monitoring minimum quality standards for publicly funded postsecondary education. In Europe and other Canadian jurisdictions observed, an independent government authority is responsible for monitoring and assuring the quality of postsecondary programs and institutions. Institutions are still primarily responsible for assuring the quality of their programming; however, the government retains a strong monitoring role. In the U.S., although regional accreditation bodies have the autonomy to set quality assurance policies and standards, they must also meet minimum standards set by the Federal Department of Education. Federal student financial aid is only eligible to students at institutions that have been accredited by a federally recognized accrediting body.

Ontario is unique in that the Ministry entrusts each postsecondary sector (colleges and universities) with oversight of the quality of their institutions. As a result, however, the Ministry is relatively less involved in quality monitoring in Ontario's postsecondary sector than governments in other jurisdictions.

All jurisdictions examined align their quality assurance policies with regional, national, or international quality assurance criteria

All jurisdictions examined align their quality assurance policies with regional (U.S. states) national (B.C., Alberta) or international (England, Ireland) quality assurance criteria. In the U.S., regional accreditation bodies set quality standards for several states in a region. Field specific accrediting agencies also accredit programs – e.g., Business programs. At a national level, the national Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) scrutinizes the quality of regional, faith-related, career-related and programmatic accrediting organizations and maintains a database of recognized organizations in the United States. B.C. and Alberta follow Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC) standards for degree standards and quality assurance procedures; Ireland and England align their quality assurance procedures with the Bologna guidelines for quality assurance.

How prominent are qualifications frameworks and the use of statements of learning outcomes to define credentials?

B.C. and Alberta's quality assurance agencies use degree-level learning standards developed by the CMEC for all degrees. In contrast to Ontario's qualifications framework, which features two types of degrees (a bachelor degree and an honours bachelor degree) B.C. and Alberta have one type of bachelor degree and thus one set of learning standards. B.C. and Alberta are also different from Ontario in that they have not yet defined learning outcomes for sub-degree credentials.

As signatories to the Bologna framework, Ireland and England have fully developed qualifications frameworks that are certified compatible with the Bologna qualifications framework. England also describes discipline-specific learning outcomes for Bachelor's and Foundation degrees, called “subject benchmarks.” Ontario lacks discipline specific learning outcomes at the degree level but has discipline-specific learning standards for most college-delivered programs, called Program Standards. Program standards include three types of learning outcomes: Vocational Learning Outcomes, Essential Employability Skills, and General Education requirements. All college-delivered programs are required to define program specific vocational outcomes. If a college wants to offer a program where a Program Standard is already established, the college must adhere to the established standard.

A second distinction between Ontario's qualifications framework on the one hand, and Ireland and England's on the other is that Ireland and England's qualifications frameworks clearly demonstrate how one credential articulates into the next. A third distinction between Ontario's qualification frameworks and European national frameworks is their comprehensiveness of the types of education included. Most European countries with qualification frameworks include basic education, secondary education, and postsecondary education.

The differences between Ontario and European frameworks are due primarily to the fact that they are intended to serve different purposes. The Ontario Qualification Framework is an informational tool, and is meant to describe the learning outcome standards of private career college, college and university-delivered credentials. This is a very different purpose than that of European qualification frameworks. European frameworks were designed to support student and labour mobility within individual jurisdictions and throughout the continent. As a result, their frameworks encompass a wider range of credentials, describe articulation expectations between credentials, and are a key element of the quality assurance process.

The U.S. jurisdictions do not have system-wide learning outcomes for postsecondary education; however, a core component of the accreditation process is to ensure institutions develop learning outcomes for their programming. There appears to be growing interest among U.S. colleges and universities for a consistent set of outcomes and language to express, assess and compare student learning. In response, the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation focused on improving higher education in the U.S., developed a degree qualifications profile in 2011 that describes what students should be able to know and do after completion of associate, bachelor and master degrees. The degree qualifications profile has been pilot tested at over 400 U.S. institutions. After an intensive consultation process, the Lumina Foundation recently launched a fully operational released Degree Qualifications Profile 2.0 (Adelman et al., 2014). Table 22 below describes selected features of qualification frameworks in other jurisdictions.

Table 22: Overview of qualification frameworks in Ontario and other jurisdictions
Jurisdiction and Framework Range of Credentials
Covered in Framework
expectations between credentials is defined
Purpose of credential framework.
Ireland National Qualifications Framework (NQF). Yes.
  • Quality assurance
  • Lifelong learning
  • Labour mobility across Europe
  • Education portability across Europe

Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)

Basic education, secondary education, short-duration technical training, vocational education, postsecondary education. Yes.
  • Quality assurance
  • Lifelong learning
  • Labour mobility across Europe
  • Education portability across Europe
Lumina Foundation
(United States)

Degree Qualifications Profile

Postsecondary education No.
  • Establish benchmarks for learning outcome standards of U.S. postsecondary credentials.
  • Foundation for Lumina's continued work on discipline-level learning outcomes.
Council of Ministers of Education Canada

Canadian Degree Qualifications Framework.

Postsecondary education (bachelor's, master's and doctorate). No.
  • Describes benchmarks for learning outcome standards of Canadian postsecondary credentials.

Ontario Qualifications Framework

Postsecondary education. No.
  • Describes learning outcome standards, purpose, typical admission requirements and duration of Ontario postsecondary credentials.


What can we learn from other jurisdictions?

Like Ontario, jurisdictions around the world are increasingly shifting the focus to creating quality learning experiences and ensuring graduates have the skills they need to prosper in the labour market. While Ontario is broadly aligned with these trends, it is worth noting that for Ontario and elsewhere, these are largely ‘emerging' trends, and some trends such as the shift to quality are largely at the level of rhetoric. There is still considerable uncertainty as to how these trends will play out in practice. It is unclear which innovations will yield the most positive results. A commitment to learning what works is critical.

While other jurisdictional models are key to understanding trends in higher education and looking towards best practices, it is important to also reflect on the regulatory context in which new credentials are introduced, and to note the significant differences in approach and context.

System design and differentiation

Ontario's applied and academic sectors are less formally differentiated than the jurisdictions included in our scan. Most jurisdictions (OR, WA, WI, AB, and B.C.) have two or more types of universities, and three jurisdictions (AB, B.C., IR) have or will soon have multiple types of applied institutions. In contrast, Ontario has one type of university (with the exception of several universities which have additional specific mandates, such as OCADU and UOIT) and two types of college in the publically funded sector. Ontario colleges are distinguished as Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs), wherein a small subset have been differentiated as Institutes of Technology and Advanced Learning (ITALs) under regulation; ITALs are eligible to offer up to 15% of programming activity through degrees, whereas CAATs are eligible to offer up to 5%.

In all jurisdictions and Ontario, the university sector has a long-standing role in providing advanced-level applied education, most commonly in health, engineering and technology, and business fields of study. In recent years, there appears to be an increased emphasis on applied education in the university sector, with credentials awarded in STEM fields of study growing faster than non-STEM fields of study.

Like the jurisdictions observed in this report, colleges in Ontario have degree-granting authority. The expansion of degree-granting authority in Ontario came earlier than in the U.S. states we studied (2007 in WA and WI; 2012 in OR), and slightly after B.C. (1989-95) and AB (1998).

Ontario's universities are relatively decentralized with greater system coordination for its colleges. U.S. jurisdictions tend to have state-college systems, while universities in most jurisdictions we studied are independent.

Credential mix and trends in credentials

With the exception of the advanced diploma, which constitutes a small proportion of total credentials awarded, Ontario's undergraduate credential mix is similar to the North American jurisdictions observed in this report, with 1, 2, and 4 year programs constituting the bulk of credentials awarded. Ontario's vocational qualifications strongly resemble the mix offered in B.C., AB, WA, WI, and OR.

England and Ireland award large numbers of three-year degrees. In Ireland, three-year degrees are offered exclusively by the applied sector institutes of technology, and most three-year degrees ladder into four-year honours degrees.

Almost all jurisdictions have introduced new applied credentials in the past 15 years. These include applied Master's and Bachelor's degrees, two-year applied associate degrees, and career pathways certificates. New degree-level credentials are designed to reach place-bound students, adult learners, and to address the need for higher-order skills in the workplace; career pathways certificates attempt to improve completion rates of low-skill learners.

In the jurisdictions examined, applied Bachelor degree holders were as equally satisfied with their program as graduates of traditional Bachelor's degrees, and tended to earn slightly more than traditional Bachelor's degree holders. The source of the difference in earnings between applied and academic degrees is unclear, and may be attributable to differences in fields of study, student characteristics, or local labour markets.

There is strong but limited evidence on the success of Career Pathways certificates. These credentials build on extensive research of “functional literacy” in which programs that integrate essential skills into technical instruction make learning “stick,” improving postsecondary access and success for low-skilled adults.

Ensuring quality and accountability

All jurisdictions examined had one quality assurance body for all postsecondary institutions. Ontario is unique in having more than one quality assurance body (OCQAS, OUCQA, and PEQAB).

In most jurisdictions, community colleges offering degrees are subject to additional approval processes compared to established universities. These additional processes are to assure the quality of degrees offered by relatively inexperienced degree-granting institutions, and to prevent duplication of programs already offered by other institutions.

Ontario, England and Ireland have qualifications frameworks that include learning standards for all credentials. Two key differences between Ontario and England and Ireland is that (1) Ontario's framework does not describe the expected articulation between credentials; and (2) Ontario's framework is only meant to describe the system, whereas European frameworks are one component of a qualifications system, i.e., all activities that result in the recognition of learning, such as the means of developing and operationalizing policy on qualifications, along with institutional arrangements, quality assurance processes, assessment and awarding processes, etc.

1 A key difference between England and North American jurisdictions is that the majority of occupational education provided in England is at the upper-secondary level instead of the postsecondary level. Further education institutions comprise a wide range of actors, including colleges, secondary schools with a vocational focus, employers, and community organizations, among others. They primarily deliver academic and vocational upper-secondary courses, basic education, and adult education.

2 Excludes apprenticeship certificates. Data from Oregon is from 2011/12. Undergraduate credentials exclude post-BA credentials.

3 Post-secondary research Michael Skolnik notes that the decline of the applied degree coincided with the government's decision to allow Grant MacEwan College and Mount Royal College – the largest producers of applied degrees – to grant academic degrees. As Skolnik notes, these institutions stopped granting applied degrees and began converting their applied degrees into academic ones. The same phenomenon occurred when the province granted the two polytechnics authority to offer academic degrees (Skolnik, 2013). Despite the coincidence, the source of the decline is unclear. The remaining community colleges (who did not receive academic degree granting authority) also stopped developing new degrees.

4 There has been a trend in the US toward accelerated degrees that condense four-year Bachelor's degree into three years of study, but this is categorically different from the three-year degree referred to here.

5 With the current transformation of Oregon to a system of independent universities, it is unclear what the new approval process will be. By law, the newly created Higher Education Coordinating Commission, responsible for overseeing all higher education, retains the right to approve new programs.

6 Jim Crabbe, Director, Workforce Education, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, personal communications.

7 Community colleges in Oregon, Wisconsin, as well as the majority of further education colleges in England, do not award degrees.