Community College | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Community College

The community college is a public post-secondary educational institution that offers a variety of programs to high-school graduates and adults seeking further education or employment training.

Community College

The community college is a public post-secondary educational institution that offers a variety of programs to high-school graduates and adults seeking further education or employment training. While the range of programs varies among provincial college systems, it may include selected baccalaureate degrees in academic and applied fields, technological and vocational courses leading to diplomas or certificates, trades and apprenticeship training, adult upgrading and remedial education, English-language courses, and a variety of credit-free, adult continuing education offerings.


While the organization, management and curriculum of community colleges does vary among the provinces and territories, all community college systems share common goals, which include accessibility, responsiveness to local needs for education and training, adaptability to changing student clienteles, a strong commitment to quality teaching, lower tuition fees than those found in universities, and an emphasis upon student support services. Students enrol in community colleges for diverse reasons. Some intend to continue to university degree programs and can earn up to 2 years of transferable credit in jurisdictions that have well-established inter-institutional articulation system. Others seek a skill that will lead to employment. Many other students choose the college as a means of upgrading credentials, of retraining for a new profession or trade, or of enriching their lives through education.

Community colleges provide opportunities for part-time learners and offer courses on weekends and evenings to accommodate student employment demands and lifestyles. While most colleges are located in population centres, many provide programs at satellite campuses in less formal facilities that enable them to reach their diverse communities.


In British Columbia and Alberta, colleges have always offered academic programs providing transfer credit to universities. Since the early 1990s, however, some colleges and UNIVERSITY COLLEGES in these provinces have been given the authority to offer degree programs in applied and traditional areas. Saskatchewan colleges have been extremely community-oriented and offer many adult continuing education programs in recreational and cultural fields.

Colleges in Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, the Yukon and Northwest Territories have been concerned primarily with employment training and adult upgrading. Many of these colleges give special attention to the needs of the unemployed, ethnic groups, and people of aboriginal descent. However, in recent years, colleges in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba have placed more emphasis on articulated academic credit transfer program pathways to universities. In Ontario, several community colleges now offer degree programs in partnership with universities. Newfoundland colleges offer a wide range of programs including some leading to university transfer.

Québec's colleges, named COLLÈGES D'ENSEIGNEMENT GÉNÉRAL ET PROFESSIONNEL (CEGEPs) were created as instruments of sociopolitical change following the Quiet Revolution. Attendance at Québec's colleges is mandatory for those high school graduates wishing to pursue a university degree. Students enter college after Grade 11 and choose either the pre-university stream or a technical program that will prepare them for employment.

Number of Colleges

There are approximately 150 public institutions in Canada which meet the criteria for community colleges. While the numbers change owing to constant amalgamations and the creation of new institutions, there are about 50 in Québec, 25 in Ontario, and 10 or more in each of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Although there are fewer in number in the other provinces and territories, community colleges are integral to each post-secondary education system. In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, single community colleges are comprised of several major campuses.

National Organization

In 1970 college educators and governments across Canada established a national organization called the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC). This organization has a large international bureau that manages college services in many countries. ACCC is located in Ottawa and includes the participation of board members, administrators, faculty and students.


Community colleges in Canada are the creation and ultimately the responsibility of provincial and territorial governments. While the federal government has no direct constitutional authority over education, it has, through a series of federal acts since 1960, provided financial support for job training and adult upgrading in the college sectors. In recent years the federal government has directed a good deal of funding to the private sector, which often forms partnerships with colleges in the provision of job training.

Canadian community colleges are managed by government-appointed boards. In some provinces, faculty, support staff and students are represented on these boards. The chief executive officer, variously named president, principal or director general, administers policies set by the provincial governments and the boards. In British Columbia, faculty have a statutorily defined role in academic governance, through a senate-like body, the Education Council. In all other provinces, instructional staff generally serve in an advisory capacity.


In the new millennium, Canada's community colleges face a number of challenges: reductions in funding from both federal and provincial governments, increasing demands for accountability through measurement of performance outcomes, pressures to respond to changing expectations of both students and industry for more relevant curricula, competition from private training schools, and a global economy which will require more information-based competencies from college training programs.

Further Reading