Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

Some prospective private college students get sobering job information

Nova Scotia's private career colleges are adhering to new regulations imposed by government last spring. It means some colleges must tell students local job prospects are low.

Nova Scotia changed rules last April to ensure students understand chances of landing jobs

Students prepare for a test at the Atlantic Flight Attendant Academy in Halifax. Students must be informed the course is not necessary to obtain an entry-level job in the industry, which usually provides its own training. (Steve Lawrence/CBC )

Tight new rules governing private colleges in Nova Scotia mean some prospective students are getting sobering information about the future chances of landing a job in their field, a CBC News investigation has found.

A number of programs at Nova Scotia colleges have had conditions imposed on them by the province, according to documents obtained under freedom of information laws. 

Before enrolling for certain programs at some private colleges, students must sign letters acknowledging they may have to move away to find employment, or that they don't even need the course to get a job in their desired line of work. 

The province has ordered one college to tell new students that the job prospects are poor in the Maritimes for graduates of two of its programs.

In total, 17 programs offered at 12 different colleges have had conditions imposed on them in the last year.

Jeffrey Reed, director of private career colleges for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, says the transition to new rules has been smooth over the last year. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Protecting students

The rules are part of a slate of changes that came into effect nearly a year ago as part of changes to the province's Private Career Colleges Act, which hadn't been updated since the 1990s.

The director of the private career college division in Nova Scotia's Labour and Advanced Education Department said the goal is to protect students.

"The purpose of the private career colleges is strictly vocational training, so that's the golden thread if you will from applying, to taking the course, to getting a job at the end," said Jeffrey Reed.

"The regulations really push all in that direction."

As part of the legislation, colleges are now required to submit graduation surveys, which will help determine whether graduates are finding jobs in their field one year after they've left the school.

Reed said the first surveys are being carried out now, with results coming in next month.

The new private career college legislation came into effect last April. All 45 schools must display the revised rules for students to read. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The provincial government introduced the new regulations after a CBC investigation found high rates of student loan defaults among former students at some private colleges in the province.

For many of Nova Scotia's 45 colleges, the new regulations have been a welcome change. But the legislation's rollout has come with some hiccups.

The Atlantic Flight Attendant Academy now informs all students prior to enrolment that most airlines provide internal training and that their program is not expected for entry-level positions in the industry. 

Cynthia Sullivan, owner of the academy, said the conditions haven't deterred students from enrolling in her three-month program.

The owner of Atlantic Flight Attendant Academy, Cynthia Sullivan, believes it was time for an updated legislation. However, she would like to see universities held to the same standards. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"We'll prepare them for a professional career, and often I think that the flight attendant isn't seen as that, so we emphasize it, that they are there as a primary safety professional on board. I think that opens up their eyes a lot more," she said.

Sullivan said one result of the new rules is that she spends more time doing administrative work as a result.

"It made a few changes, certainly in terms of there is a lot more paperwork. The contract is a lot longer, we've gone from a two- or three-page contract to a 13-page contract for our students," said Sullivan. 

Equal treatment for all

Both the province and colleges say the regulations have made Nova Scotia's career college industry, with programs ranging from four days to seven years, one of the strongest in the country. The legislation better protects the 4,000 students enrolled, according to Reed.

But it's the unequal treatment between universities and colleges that has some owners miffed.

Unlike colleges, universities in the province aren't required to complete graduate surveys or inform students of their chances in the labour market.

"Certainly it would provide more protection if universities were held to the same standard that way, of job placement rates in Nova Scotia," said Sullivan.

With files from Richard Cuthbertson