When CBC first published their investigation into the exploitation of international students and the business of private vocational career colleges, it instantly brought me back to my experience as a Canadian in a private vocational career college. It’s something that I take a keen interest in because the grim reality is that these private vocational career colleges do not offer quality education, and it’s there to entice international students to come over to Canada in hopes of getting permanent residency and a “Canadian” education and work experience. According to the Globe and Mail, international students contributed about $ 21 billion to the Canadian economy with their high tuition fees and student fees. Simply put, they’re seen as cash cows for many of these institutes.

My experience with private vocational career colleges

In 2013, after seeing many ads about a Human Resources (HR) diploma program with a practicum option, I decided to schedule an intake meeting with the college (we’ll call it “BC College”). I met with an admissions advisor and spoke about the HR program. I remember vividly that she promised the practicum placement was paid work experience that the school would assist with, and that I could transfer my BC College credits to any university. In my mind, that sounded like a great option – complete my diploma, enter the workforce, and then study online/part-time for the remaining two years to obtain my Bachelor’s once I transferred. This way, I was able to gain valuable work experience right away. The ability to transfer my credits to any institute was important to me and it was what sold me to enroll with BC College. 

A screenshot from back in 2013 where I was super excited to be approved for my student loans to go back to school.

After completing enrollment and being approved for student loans, I was scheduled to start my first course in just a couple of weeks. On my first day, I remember heading downtown to a decent and clean campus in a random building. It was nice but it occupied just one floor of the building. The classroom size was about 20 or so students. We were scheduled to be in class from 9:00 AM to approx. 2:00 or 3:00 PM with a 30-minute lunch break and some coffee breaks. One course would last about 3 to 4 weeks with a final exam at the end. If you are late or missed 3 of your classes out of your entire program, you’ll be kicked out of the program. 

As the weeks went on, I noticed four things:

  1. I was either the only Canadian or one of two Canadians in the classroom and it was brought to my attention several times throughout my time there. All the other students were international. In traditional universities and colleges, you get a mixture of nationalities in the classroom. 
  2. Nearly all professors for each course did not plan their curriculum. They followed the chapters in the textbook and read the textbook to us or had us read it and then summarize it. No additional handouts or notes were given.
  3. Many students cheated on all the quizzes and final exams. I know because I was asked several times if they could copy off me. Faculty members do not care, as long as students pass to progress to the next course of the program.
  4. There were little to no group projects or presentations. It was solely textbooks and random assignments/tests.

As the program progressed, we were kicked out of our downtown campus because a local high school (by the creator of BC College) wanted to take over the floor. We were transferred to another campus which was located in a small mall (yes, you heard right… a mall!). 

About halfway through my program, one of my classmates told me he was dropping out of BC College and transferring to another private college that offered a university transfer path. I was taken aback because I thought… Why transfer to another college when BC College allows you to transfer already? He ended up telling me that was not the case. 

An old selfie celebrating the first three weeks at my college and completing the first course.

Baffled and angered, I spoke with the Dean of the college for confirmation. He verified that BC College credits were not transferable to any other institute and that the admissions advisor would not have promised such a thing. 

I felt I had no other option but to continue with the program since I was more than halfway through and had sunk a decent amount of money into it. 

Once I finished all my courses, it was time for me to start my practicum. Some of my classmates had started their practicum already. Out of the 4 or 5 classmates I’ve spoken to, only one had a good practicum that was related to her studies and she had to apply for it herself. The rest of them told me that they were placed in a dance studio and made to clean bathrooms with no pay.

I was confused at first because no career counsellor reached out to me and after my last course wrapped up, I sat at home in limbo for a bit before reaching out. The career counsellor said she’d find some placements for me and first introduced me to the same dance studio as my classmates mentioned. I declined the placement after telling her I did not study to clean bathrooms. She sighed and told me she’ll try to find something but I never heard from her again. 

There was also a hospitality career fair being hosted in the school. I attended and landed an HR internship at a local hostel/bar without pay. I didn’t mind the pay since I was living at home and I valued work experience more. Unfortunately, that placement took advantage of me and trained me to cover front desk check-ins and some restaurant duties. When I mentioned this to my manager, he promised to let me shadow the HR and Payroll team once I completed these tasks. I ended up quitting the placement and let my school know that my 3 weeks of internship had no HR-related duties. She tried to convince me to stay but ultimately, I declined. 

In the end, I chose to drop out of the program so I never graduated with my diploma. I asked if I could remove the practicum weeks but the school denied that request. The school offered no practicum or resume support and I was unable to find any student work.

This entire program and experience cost me just under $20,000 (including living expenses) and it was a nightmare. I walked out with nothing. I settled with the college for a $3,000 refund after citing false claims in exchange that I do not name the college in the media. My tuition was for domestic Canadians so you can only imagine how much it would cost for international students to receive a 2-year “diploma” (for context, diplomas generally cost less than a Bachelor’s degree). To give you an idea, my Bachelor’s degree from a public Canadian university was only $16,000 which included all my fees and textbooks.

The last couple of months of my program. I never got a co-op or was offered to complete the employment readiness course.

Reflecting, I regretted this educational journey tremendously. I wish I had either more research or had someone tell me what these colleges are really like. Back in 2013, there was very little information online which is why I want to do my part to help other international or local students looking at these types of schools. Seeing a government-backed certified badge on their website didn’t help either, as I later came to discover they don’t mean much. 

There is no “quality education” in the majority of these schools. At this rate, you’re better off studying on your own through Coursera or Udemy for a recognized degree, or buying a textbook and reading it yourself. In most cases, once you graduate, chances are, your employer would not recognize these private schools either. There are only a handful of private vocational career colleges that BC employers recognize and they’re typically for Paralegal or Early Childhood Education programs. 

What you can expect from these private vocational career colleges

  • Domestic and international tuition costs more than a public university’s diploma programs.
  • Poor quality of education where you sit in a classroom and read the textbook with your professor and classmates. 
  • No given opportunities to develop your presentation and teamwork skills as projects rarely existed. Additionally, no opportunities to develop critical thinking, writing, and any other traditional skills you may develop throughout an undergrad program.
  • A school that many local employers most likely will not recognize. 
  • Little to no alumni support, events, etc. 
  • No consequences for cheaters; faculty members will turn a blind eye as they need students to pass the course to continue their program. Many peers will bluntly ask you to copy your answers.
  • Very limited opportunities to transfer your credits to a public university. 

In the end, where someone chooses to go to school is ultimately their choice. Some may want to opt for these private vocational career colleges rather than a public college/university. If you ask me, I would share my horrible experience with you and advise you to look at public institutions. You may be thinking that I sound very sour with my experience and that doesn’t mean it’s the truth about all private vocational career colleges, and you’re right. However, I do encourage you to do your research and seek other experiences and you’ll soon start to see how similar our experiences are.

Suppose you are someone choosing the path of private institutes. In that case, I recommend checking out the Private Training Institute website to review if your college has any infractions, or if the college you’re choosing is indeed a designated college. 

With love, Claire


    • Thank you for your kind words, Lucy! While I have some regrets about choosing a private vocational career college, the experience has taught me valuable lessons. I’m glad my story could provide some insight!

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