A 45th anniversary—over 150 years in the making
To catch a glimpse of where you're headed, you need to gain an appreciation of where you come from. In looking back, we allow ourselves to appreciate how much we've progressed and recognize what has remained constant throughout the years. Private career colleges have a long legacy of providing expedient vocational training to Ontarians looking to enter the workforce.
In fact, it was 150 years ago when one of Ontario's first career colleges, the Ontario Business College, opened its doors to eager students in Belleville back in 1868. Senior members in the industry may recognize the name; the college was for a long time believed to be the first of its kind in Ontario, until only recently when Willis College revealed it had been established two years prior in 1866—a full year before Canadian confederation. Yet, with a difference of merely two years between them, we can be certain that it was a completely uncharted landscape for these new colleges, and in the case of the Ontario Business College, its founders Samuel Beatty and George Wallbridge who sought to assuage the demand of a workforce struggling to meet the practical needs of a brazen new nation. But for those dedicated to filling the gap in Ontario's education framework, it proved to be an incredibly profitable venture.
It wasn't long before the institution became one of Canada's eminent business colleges, garnering international fame that attracted students from around the world—most notably from the United States and West Indies. And the college held on to its sterling reputation for exceptional training for over a century, until it closed its doors at the cusp of the millennium. At the time, the college had 12 campuses across the province.
The Ontario Business College may no longer be in operation, but it's an interesting case study that brings to light the motivations of the pioneers of a sector that would soon erupt into about 600 campuses in Ontario alone. And as the needs of employers and the workforce in this province have grown and diversified, so too has our sector.
When looking through history's lens, fixed on the point in time where it all started for our industry—pouring over decades-old documentation and photographs—it is striking to see that the core principles of Ontario's career colleges have seldom changed in over a century and a half. Take for example this page out of the O.B.C. accounting textbook written by Samuel Beatty circa 1877.
"Training Young men, Boys, and Middle-aged Men, in the shortest possible time and at the least expense, for active successful business life; teaching them how to transact business for themselves, how to manage business for others, and how to become useful, enterprising citizens."
Perhaps you may see your institution's core values in this antiquated message from one of the sector's founders. It's dated—we thankfully made the shift to equal opportunity admissions—but never the less poignant: offering students an efficient way to enter the workforce through expedient training at an affordable price. Or perhaps still you may find a resonance in the college's modus operandi: "Where the course of study is directly adapted to the exigencies of the age and times."
Students will always be at the heart of what we do, and our values are a testament to that. In 1973, it became apparent to a cohort of career college owners that Ontario's career colleges faced a majority of opportunities and challenges that could only be addressed on a provincial level, so as to necessitate coordinated, local representation and a voice that would champion their students. If you're a career college professional in Ontario or work closely with one, that's your voice, too. The resulting association was established as the Private Career Education Council, but you're likely more familiar with its current name—Career Colleges Ontario. For 45 years, the association has tirelessly promoted the tenets of career colleges so their values may continue to resonate throughout an increasingly competitive environment.
The rich history of career colleges in this province is one we all should take particular pride in. That's why even in its founding year the provincial association launched its inaugural CCO Conference, welcoming the sector's innovators to gather and share their stories. It was an opportunity never yet afforded to the sector, and it continues to provide the chance to network with like-minded individuals, to forge longstanding and beneficial relationships and institute best practices for operations. But most importantly, the CCO Conference offers colleges the chance to reflect on and celebrate their achievements as we continue to build upon a legacy of exceptional training that produces exceptional graduates.