(i’m predicting Tibbits is gone before April 1st when they reveal their latest.. Pile O’Cash).
In 2020, a committee of 50 Conestoga College faculty outlined a wide range of concerns with the school’s growing international student enrolment, and the impact it could have if interventions weren’t made.
The report describes trade instructors concerned some students posed a safety risk using machines due to poor English skills, other faculty reported hearing students referring to particular programs as a “joke” because the students' only goal was to “get into Canada,” and some instructors said they were being overruled by management when they followed the college’s polices for late assignments, missed assignments and overall grading.
“The culture at the college has been negatively affected with the enormous increase in admissions that have put a strain on our processes and procedures to maintain a high quality of education,” the report reads. “This crisis will have a long term and lasting effect on the success of our graduates and the college's reputation.”
In the four years since the report's original submission, international student enrolment has tripled.
The report, commissioned in 2019 by OPSEU Local 237 — the union that represents Conestoga counsellors, librarians and faculty — was presented to the Union College Committee that includes both union representatives and high-ranking Conestoga officials in Feb. 2020.
The committee acts as a bridge for the union to work directly with college decision-makers. Conestoga president John Tibbits is not a member of the committee and would not have been in the room for the presentation, but the committee did include one of the college’s senior vice-presidents.
The report made 26 recommendations focused on pre-program preparation, educational quality and student supports, with suggestions largely based on best practices from other countries where schools saw dramatic increases in international student enrolment.
Among its top recommendations, the faculty suggested mandatory attendance keeping, improved and verified language proficiency, an emphasis on maintaining consistent academic standards and ensuring academic integrity remains the school's top priority.
It also called for a direct statement from Conestoga president Tibbits “that it is imperative to not pass students (for fear of it reflecting poorly on the instructor), if the students clearly have not met expectations.”
The report has been verified by the college, though it cautions that the COVID-19 pandemic that began a month after its submission required “substantial realignment of both academic and business plans in an ever-evolving environment.”
The six-page report described as a “call to action to improve the academic and learning success of our students,” was completed by the union’s Managing Growth and Change Sub-Committee.
It includes a combination of first-person examples from inside the classroom, and recommendations on how to handle the college's growing international enrolment.
Specific concerns were raised about a lack of English proficiency, and the impacts it was having on course delivery and the overall classroom environment. Teachers reported having to re-explain concepts consistently, slowing the pace of instruction and bringing it down to basic levels.
Among its recommendations, the report suggested the college implement its own language proficiency test, and require all international students to only take part in in-person courses.
Faculty suggested all classes should be “balanced between domestic and international students to encourage more interaction with native English-speakers,” and the college should implement mandatory attendance tracking as “attendance is not taken seriously.”
The Waterloo Region Record spoke with two different business instructors currently teaching at the college, who have asked to remain anonymous due to potential employment backlash.
In one course, the instructor said about 95 per cent of their students are international, and the vast majority are working full-time jobs to afford the high cost of living in Ontario. They said the students look at the syllabus, figure out which days they must be in class, and often do the bare minimum to get a passing grade.
They said almost all the international students they taught were living in either Brampton or Mississauga.
In a class of about 50 students, one instructor said they expect between five to 10 students to attend when there isn’t a test or assignment.
Another instructor described students constantly trying to negotiate passing grades. This instructor said they were spending more time negotiating grades than actually instructing.
Both instructors stressed the students were not to blame and were mostly trying their best to manage an unsustainable workload with the realities of working full time.
The union confirmed the situations described by the instructors were not uncommon, and they have received multiple reports of low attendance, and increased workloads for instructors trying to work with students to pass their classes.
Faculty in 2020 said they felt they needed more support from their chairs and academic managers, and specifically called for them to “not forgive integrity issues or change student final grades.”
The report said that instructors were being forced to modify their courses to ensure students could be successful, but the “evaluations are no longer matching the taxonomy of the course outcomes.”
Examples were shared where class outcomes would state “analysis,” yet students were asked to simply “identify” on a multiple-choice exam question.
In situations where students didn't understand assignments or knew they weren't capable of completing them, teachers said some students were taking “unethical” solutions.
“These solutions include plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, or contract cheating (buying an assignment online or hiring someone to write it for them),” the report said.
In response to the report, Conestoga submitted a document to The Record on Monday outlining how it has addressed the recommendations made in the 2020 report.
The college outlines a heavy focus on mandatory and voluntary workshops for staff, centred around instruction for international students, something it said it has focused on since international enrolment started to grow in 2018.
The college originally offered to pay staff $20 per hour to complete any workshops of their choosing and increased the amount to $40 per hour in 2022.
Conestoga also sent faculty from IT programs and health care programs to India to experience the educational system and report back to the college; this was one of the direct recommendations to get a better understanding of Indian student baselines.
Of the 26 recommendations in the report, 10 were geared toward enhanced training and supports for both staff and students.
Not all the recommendations have been addressed or implemented, but the school has increased its supports since 2020. The college hired a manager of academic integrity in 2018 and said it has hired five more staff over the last five years to support faculty and students.
“Some of these things were done, certainly in looking at things like providing training to faculty on cultural diversity and that type of thing,” said Leopold Koff, president of OPSEU Local 237. “As for the rest, unfortunately a lot of it wasn’t.”
On its program quality, the college pointed to outside audits, and workplace placement rates to demonstrate its priority for quality education.
“The college was awarded the highest possible rating in the College Quality Assurance Audit Process (CQAAP), assessed by an independent panel of auditors as meeting all quality standards required for Ontario’s public colleges,” it said in its response
In bold, the college then said: “The audit report, issued in April 2021, commends Conestoga for its commitment and significant investments in a quality culture.”
It said that 86.2 per cent of Conestoga graduates obtained employment within six months, compared to the provincial average of 83.4. Nearly 80 per cent of Conestoga students indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied their program was providing skills and knowledge that would help them achieve their career goals, also higher than the provincial average of 75 per cent.
Despite the concerns raised in 2020, the college’s international enrolment continued to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conestoga received 12,822 new study permits in 2021, jumping to 20,905 in 2022, and 30,395 in 2023, according to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Since 2014, the college has seen an increase in its international student enrolment of 1,579 per cent, according to a report funded by Ontario’s Big City Mayors.
Conestoga posted a $106-million surplus in the 2022-23 fiscal year, after a $57-million surplus the year before, and is sitting on at least $682 million in cash reserves, according to its 2022-23 fiscal report.
The college will reveal its updated finances after April 1, where it is expected to show a growth in both its surplus and its cash reserves, based on its dramatic increase in international students.
The numbers will drop this year as the college awaits a decision from the provincial government on how to implement a 50 per cent cut on international student enrolment across the province, mandated by federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller.
Koff and the union see this as an opportunity for Conestoga to address concerns raised in the 2020 report.
“It’s not just a language issue we’re seeing now, it’s around the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic,” said Koff.
“Do they have the fundamental requirements acquired yet that would be expected by someone in the secondary school level, let alone the grade school level? I believe some of the students we have arrive with the equivalency of a grade school level of education, and they’re coming into post-secondary,” he said.
Talks on the issues have continued since the original 2020 report, with the latest presentation on international student enrolment concerns in Dec. 2023 at a Union College Committee meeting.
Koff said there is also discussion about issuing a followup report.
“I have great faith that the college can move forward and there is a management level within the college that can enable that,” said Koff.
“We are fully in support of the college, we’re all employees of it and we’re proud to be part of Conestoga. Faculties’ biggest concern is they don’t want to lose their pride in being part of Conestoga and what it stands for.” submitted by /u/CinnabonAllUpInHere