Opinions

DeVry's "duh"gree

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The DeVry Institute of Technology was, until recently, famous for only one thing--truly awful TV commercials in which NASA gofers and helicopter pilots profess to be "serious about success." DeVry will now also be known as the first for-profit post-secondary institution in Canada to earn degree-granting status.

As of Jan. 31, 2001, DeVry will compete with the University of Calgary in the areas of "business operations, technology and electronic engineering." Whether DeVry will be truly competitive depends on many factors, not the least of which is the validity of the rather secretive accreditation process. You can thank Lyle Oberg and the pioneering Ministry of Learning for this development--one that has more than a few people at the U of C seriously upset, including The University of Calgary Faculty Association President John Baker, Graduate Students' Association President Viola Cassis and Students' Union President Toby White, who called the Learning Ministry's decision "outrageous."

One of their problems is DeVry's unfair advantage when it comes to financial matters in comparison to the U of C. They charge a higher rate of tuition for full-time students; about $8,000 compared to the current $4,400 at the U of C. And students do pay this higher amount. Curiously, over 1,000 students in Calgary currently pay exorbitant DeVry tuition, without a care about accreditation. With this money and their new legitimacy, DeVry can leach the U of C's best professors and hire our best graduate students. While DeVry's programs are sub-par now, they might soon offer programs and professors that match or exceed the U of C equivalents.

Worse yet, the U of C serves the community; DeVry does not. The U of C must answer to the citizens of Calgary and is held accountable through citizen representation on the U of C Board of Governors and Senate. DeVry answers only to its shareholders and has no such accountability to Calgarians; it can and does teach whatever its head office (in this case, the good folks of Illinois, U.S.A.) dictates. This leaves the quality and appropriateness of a DeVry degree suspect in the eyes of publicly-educated individuals.

Perhaps the best question yet is why would the Alberta government "legitimize" DeVry when it already heavily subsidizes the rival U of C? Encouraging opposition is not likely to make the U of C any better or more competitive; DeVry can raise (or lower) tuition at will, lure professors with higher salaries, and drop or create entire programs or departments from year to year depending on demand. And why should DeVry feature any of those unprofitable Liberal Arts programs anyway? The Alberta government may yet drive the U of C into second-tier status. It'll be some time, but it could very well happen--DeVry is just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of private, for-profit institutions in this province who are salivating at DeVry's windfall.

All in all, giving DeVry the right to grant degrees is a worrying move on the part of the Alberta government. It's the first step in a process that virtually ensures the U of C will become consistently less-profitable, less diverse and less reputable. The rest of the province--indeed the rest of the country--had better be worried about this development as well.

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