Nova Scotia

Halifax-area private college accused of failing to deliver law-enforcement curriculum

Ravensberg College bills itself as the first step toward a career in law enforcement, but several former students say the private Nova Scotia school failed to deliver its curriculum and then failed some of them out of the program.

Ravensberg College says claims are 'without merit' and it expects the government to clear it

Anthony Arnold said his Ravensberg experience put him off a law-enforcement career. He's switching to trucking. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Ravensberg College bills itself as the first step toward a career in law enforcement, but several former students say the private Nova Scotia school failed to deliver its curriculum and then failed some of them out of the program.

Ravensberg College said those accusations are "without merit" and declined to be interviewed.

Anthony Arnold had worked in private security and attended Ravensberg to advance his career. The father of two hoped to improve life for his family.

"There's nothing from Ravensberg I could take away where I could say yes, I learned a definable skill, or I took something away from me in life," he said.

He started in fall 2019 at the school's Halifax location. Arnold, who was funded through the Nova Scotia government, said the college promised regular physical training, which turned out to mean access to a small gym with little guidance. When Ravensberg moved from Halifax to adjacent Bedford during his term, the gym disappeared.

The college website says it delivers nine certifications in things like defensive tactics, combat swimming, computer skills, First Aid and firearms safety. Arnold said most of that didn't happen.

The college says it offers a two-year program, and it charges $16,800 for two years of tuition. However, its "accelerated" delivery happens over 14 months. That includes 180 hours of "on-the-job training," which Arnold said turned out to mean many students had to find their own unpaid work.

"The only thing in the course that was relevant to today's policing was the Criminal Code. Everything else was just null and void," he said.

Despite his concerns, he continued to attend the college and made As and Bs. He had a health problem toward the end of the term and said he tried to reach Jason Spillner, the director of admissions, to see what he could do. He said Spillner didn't return his emails or phone calls until other students urged him to do so during a Zoom meeting.

Ravensberg College is now based in Bedford, N.S. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Arnold said Ravensberg failed him on the last two tests, which failed him out of the college. 

"I have given you my time for the past 13 or 14 months, I've come to you with my money and said, 'Hey, teach me what I need to know.' You're supposed to be a leader and a mentor, not someone who's going to beat me down," he said.

Arnold decided to move on to another private college, the Transport Training Centres of Canada. He said their program was excellent and has prepared him to work as a truck driver. He will graduate at the end of April.

He has filed a complaint against Ravensberg with the Department of Labour and Education's private career colleges board, which oversees businesses like Ravensberg.

Ravensberg says complaints 'without merit'

Spillner declined to be interviewed for this story. 

"Despite the pandemic, we were able to deliver on our government-accredited curriculum and provide an enriching program for our students," he said in an email to CBC. 

He said Ravensberg is invested in the success of its students. 

"We understand that one or more students have made complaints this year, which we have reviewed and found to be without merit," Spillner said.

"We are currently involved in a formal complaint process with the ministry and expect that the ministry will concur that the complaints are without merit."

Preparing for a policing career

Kenzie Gertley-Gregan took the same Ravensberg program from 2019 to 2020. 

"My dream has been to become a police officer, so through athletics and academics, I've always tried to orient myself to put myself in the best position for that goal," he told CBC.

He expected to graduate with a diploma that would help his application to police agencies stand out. "But more than that, I was looking for a program that would prepare me fully for the experience of being a police officer, both mentally and physically."

He met with Spillner, the college's administer, and left the hour-long talk confident the program would put him in top physical shape and ready to pass police fitness testing. 

He said problems started soon after classes did. The classroom material seemed a bit thrown together, but the instructor was a former RCMP officer and taught well. But the theory was not matched by practice.

Kenzie Gertley-Gregan has filed a formal complaint against Ravensberg College. (CBC)

"The handcuffing, the baton — the hands-on stuff is what really attracts us to the college and program, and to the career. Time after time, those opportunities to engage in those experiences were just denied for reasons that were not really explicable to the student body," Gertley-Gregan said. 

They spent six hours a day in class, but he said less than an hour was spent on physical training. Often that was just trying out handcuffs on each other with no instructions. Certifications were delayed.

After the pandemic hit, Ravensberg told students the remainder of the program would be online only. But then it reversed and told them some key final tests would only be offered in person. 

Gertley-Gregan had moved back to P.E.I. to save some money, so drove back to Bedford for those final tests after the Thanksgiving weekend of 2020. New COVID-19 border checks had gone up, delaying his trip. 

"And when I showed up 40 minutes late, I was informed that I would not be able to join in on the lessons for the remainder of that day and I would not be getting my certifications from the college," he said. 

"I thought this is getting a little ridiculous. The school is providing COVID as their No. 1 excuse for any shortcoming of theirs. When I'm 40 minutes late because of a COVID checkpoint, it seems like COVID is the excuse for everyone but the student."

Gertley-Gregan got a failing grade for that test. He was a few minutes late to the final test and the school wouldn't let him take it. The college failed him out of the program.

Spelling mistakes and victim blaming

Gertley-Gregan said the school violated "numerous areas" of his student contract. No risk assessment was done for his on-the-job training, he said, certifications weren't delivered and the instruction time wasn't what it was supposed to be.

"There are all these contract infractions, but there's no recourse," he said.

He also realized the province has no public registry for complaints against private career colleges, meaning potential students don't know about complaints.   

Connor Ellis lives in Greenwood, N.S., and attended Ravensberg from 2019 to 2020. He graduated from the program, but the experience put off a career in law enforcement. 

"The longer it went on, the quality lowered," he said.

They wrote police reports, but got little feedback, he said. Many class hours were spent taking notes from a slide-show presentation that had spelling errors and outdated information, he said. 

One day Ellis travelled in from Greenwood for classes and found the lesson for that day was to play football. "That's not exactly policing. That's not what I signed up for."

He saw little order in the classroom, with some unruly students disturbing the class with few consequences. He said one student bullied another, but the college didn't take action. 

"I'm constantly wishing I didn't go. I could have used my money to do something else," he said. "It was a big mistake."

Ellis filed a complaint to the college, but not the government.

A spokesperson for the Department of Labour and Education said the private career colleges board is looking into the complaints. No one from the department would agree to be interviewed for this story.