Hamilton

Mohawk College faces backlash for shuttering one-of-a-kind Accessible Media Production program

Mohawk College in Hamilton says an accessible media program that's the only one of its kind in Canada will be replaced with micro-credentials due to low enrolment, but critics say closing it will impact disability human rights.

Hamilton school says enrolment low, will offer micro-credentials; critics say program needs better marketing

A picture of Mohawk College's Fennell campus.
Mohawk College paused its Accessible Media Production program — the only one of its kind in Canada. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Mohawk College is facing criticism over its move to shutter Accessible Media Production — its one-of-a-kind program geared toward making Canada more accessible to people with disabilities.

The eight-month, online, post-graduation certificate program teaches students how to create accessible content, like captions and described video, and delves into disability legislation and inclusive writing. It also includes a capstone project.

While the Hamilton-based college says the program will be replaced by micro-credentials and no content will be lost, the program's creator, who is also the lead on developing the micro-credentials, is skeptical.

The full-time college program is the only of its kind in Canada, and critics say the school's decision will have a huge impact.

"Accessibility and disability must be a higher priority for the college than meeting enrolment targets and the suspension of this program cannot simply be viewed through the lens of 'business decision,' but rather, as a decision impacting disability human rights and Disability Justice goals," reads an open letter to the college from concerned students and community members.

Low enrolment led to ending full-time program, Mohawk says

Mohawk College's chief operating officer, Paul Armstrong, told CBC Hamilton the full-time program won't be reinstated any time soon.

He said he disagrees with the idea there will be an impact on the industry by ending the full-time program.

Armstrong said the school is moving away from the full-time program because of enrolment numbers.

Since fall 2017, he said, there have been just 41 graduates — 30 from the full-time post-graduate program and 11 through part-time studies.

"Enrolment in this delivery format has been a challenge right since we started," he said.

Armstrong said that since 2017, the college has spent $85,000 to $100,000 a year to keep the program running. 

It's such a micro concept … it's by no means the same program at all … clearly he doesn't understand what we do.- Jennifer Curry Jahnke, Mohawk program's creator and co-ordinator

Some critics have pointed out the employment rate for graduates of the program is 91 per cent and say the problem is in the school's marketing efforts.

Armstrong said the program was nearly suspended in 2020 for the same reason and the school has tried advertising, but enrolment levels haven't changed.

"It's not from lack of effort on anyone's part to try and recruit students," he said.

"A 91 per cent employment rate is fantastic, but that, in some years, is based on four graduates."

COO 'doesn't understand what we do' 

Jennifer Curry Jahnke, the program's creator and co-ordinator, and Sandi Gauder, an instructor in the program, said in separate interviews the school has done a poor job of promoting the program.

Both of them also sit on the program advisory committee and said despite Mohawk College saying it will work with the committee, people were only told about the decision once it was official.

Armstrong said the first of the micro-credentials replacing the full-time program, which are "smaller module, bite-sized pieces," will be launched this fall.

He said the move to micro-credentials will save the school money and also offer students more freedom as to when they learn without losing any content from the full-time program.

"We're still in the process of building them but there's no reason to think we'd lose anything at the end of the day from a curriculum perspective," he said.

An individual smiling in a classroom.
Jennifer Curry Jahnke, the program's creator and co-ordinator, says she doesn't believe micro-credentials will make up for losing the full-time program. (Mohawk College)

Jahnke, who is leading the effort on micro-credentials, said she was tasked with creating 10 micro-credentials and said she's "nowhere near done."

She is also skeptical the school will fit all the same content into micro-credentials, since the ones she's working on only represent two out of the 11 courses in the program.

"It's such a micro concept … it's by no means the same program at all … clearly he doesn't understand what we do," she said after hearing Armstrong's comments.

"It doesn't add any of the work-integrated working or the applied research or anything happening on social media."

Concerns about impact on disability community

Gauder said that, as an employer in the industry (she's the co-owner of CMSWebSolutions), she knows the impact replacing the full-time program would have.

"There is a dearth of qualified individuals to get the work done. There is no lack of interest from employers, we can't graduate enough students to fill the need," she said.

An open letter from concerned students and community members echoed concerns.

"It cannot be overstated how devastating this decision is to the accessibility industry, persons with disabilities who continue to be excluded from digital environments, and the province as a whole as we move toward an increasingly accessible Ontario," read the letter.

Ryan Joslin, who graduated from the program in 2021, said he thinks the micro-credentials could work, but based on what he learned, it should remain a full-time program.

"There's just a lot of information that's covered … it covers the whole gamut of accessibility," he said.

"The field is growing immensely and it's expanding to the point where there's always job opportunities and people needed with this specialty … without this type of program being there for people to take, it's really going to leave the employers without many options to hire people."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

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