Manitoba has lowest college graduation rate in Canada, report says

Manitoba's colleges are facing new accountability measures that will affect their funding from the provincial government, Education Minister Ian Wishart says.

Province plans to start determining funding based on performance, Education Minister Ian Wishart says

Education Minister Ian Wishart wants Manitoba college's graduation rate to climb 15 percentage points in the next five years. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Manitoba's colleges are facing new accountability measures that will affect their funding from the provincial government, Education Minister Ian Wishart says.

The changes stem from a report that found Manitoba has the lowest post-secondary education participation and graduation rate in the country.

The 206-page report, prepared by Toronto-based Higher Education Strategy Associates, found only 62 per cent of Manitoba college students graduate — 10 percentage points behind the national average.

Wishart wants that to climb 15 points the next five years.

"That's certainly a target that we're working towards. We want to be competitive at a national level in terms of the proportion of our workforce that has post-secondary education, that's there we need to be," he said.

Back in 1999, Manitoba had a graduation rate equal to or higher than Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, but both have since pulled ahead substantially, the report says.

In order to achieve that, ​the report recommends changing the funding formula to make the colleges more accountable. 

"The current accountability arrangements for Manitoba colleges are somewhat rudimentary. For 99 per cent of the budget, there is no direct accountability," the report says. "The institution simply receives what it received the previous year, plus or minus whatever rate of inflation (or cut) the provincial government sees fit to impose upon the sector as a whole.

"Manitoba does not have a funding formula based on enrolments or outcomes."

While there are many rules and controls in the system to analyze new initiatives and prevent misconduct, there is little to no accountability in the sense of institutions being responsible for achieving specific goals, the report says.

Performance-based funding

The province plans to establish a performance-based funding formula, Wishart said Monday at a news conference about the report.

"Many of its recommendations are in line with this government's strategic direction, and we look forward to working with stakeholders to create a more robust education system for all Manitobans," he said.

Back in 1999, Manitoba had a graduation rate equal to or higher than Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, but both have since pulled ahead substantially. (Higher Education Strategy Associates)

The government will be in discussions with the colleges soon about the funding formula overhaul but Wishart said it is unlikely to be implemented for at least a year, since the provincial budget for 2018-19 has already been set.

"More realistically, we are looking toward the next budget cycle," he said.

The report examined governance, efficiency, student outcomes, programming relevance to the labour market, financial management, system co-ordination, partnerships and client services at five post-secondary institutions: Assiniboine Community College, Red River College, the Manitoba Institute of Trade and Technology, University College of the North and St. Boniface University.

'Serious concerns': Red River College

A spokesperson for Red River College said they were pleased the college was found to be well-run. But the college raised issues with the framework suggested by the review, which it says could be costly to run even as the college contends with reduced funding from the province, and will only affect colleges, not universities.

"We have some serious concerns with the review's recommendations, most notably that it recommends the establishment of an elaborate, outcomes-based funding formula that we believe would require more resources to administer (likely both at the province and at the colleges) and even more peculiarly, would apply to only 28 per cent of the PSE [post-secondary education] sector (i.e.: only colleges, not universities)," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

"So, we will wait for further direction from the province on funding. At the moment, RRC is focused on implementing the one per cent funding decrease announced in last week's budget, which will mean reductions in programming."

The spokesperson added that while many of the college's programs have graduation rates of 80 or 90 per cent, others have much lower graduation rates, including the ACCESS program targeted at low-income students. That program is being revamped, he said.

"We are always working to improve graduation rates while also maintaining our 'first-qualified, first-admitted' approach to accepting students," the spokesperson wrote. "This makes the task different for Red River than other PSEs who improve grad rates via policies that restrict entry. So, we will continue to work on improvements in programs that fall below the average while ensuring RRC remains accessible and affordable for all students."

Education aligned with labour market

Mark Frison, president of Assiniboine Community College, agrees with much of the report but thinks the province's goal of increasing the number of graduates by 15 percentage points is too low.

His institution has looked at the growing job market and its needs, and in 2013 it set the goal of doubling its number of graduates by 2025. In the four years since, the number has grown by 35 percentage points so the college is well on track to meet its goal, he said.

"That's a key thing, I think, to move the economy forward."

In addition to increasing participation and graduation rates and establishing a performance-based funding formula, the province said it will work toward implementing several other key recommendations to ensure students are getting an education that is best aligned with the needs of the labour market, Wishart said.

Those include: 

  • Developing college-specific mandate letters.
  • Increasing rural and regional co-ordination to meet local needs.
  • Streamlining the program approval process.
  • Introducing an external quality assurance mechanism.
  • Focusing capital funding priorities to make strategic improvements.

In addition to its general recommendations, the report provides specific reports and recommendations for each of the five colleges.

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  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Red River College declined to comment.
    Mar 19, 2018 2:09 PM CT