The president of the DeVry Institute of Technology has been painted as a tycoon out to end public education, but John Ballheim said he is just a man committed to doing the right thing for his institution and the students it serves.
"We sought accreditation so our graduates would be more credible in the marketplace," he explains. "The more credibility they carry with them when they leave here, they more likely they'll be successful," he said about DeVry's recent accreditation. "I also think it's good for the employers, because it provides an additional source of knowledgeable, skilled, talented young minds that they need to make their companies more valuable."
The three newly-accredited programmes include a Bachelor of Technology in electronic engineering technology, one in computer information systems and a Bachelor of Business Operations.
Roughly 40 per cent of each degree consists of "general education" courses to broaden the scope of the program. In terms of overlap with similar university programs, Ballheim explained that where a university course of study may be conceptualised as narrow and vertical, a DeVry degree is broad and horizontal so the area of overlap is very small.
The process of DeVry's accreditation has been criticized as being "hush-hush" and concealed, but as Ballheim demonstrates, it has been a long, rigorous and noisy road for the institute to navigate.
"This has been so public for so long that I guess people weren't paying attention," he said. "We started preparing ourselves for accreditation in the late 1980's and it's been a steady progress since then. This goes back to 1992 when the province put together a strategic options package. There was a great deal of public consultation at that time, and from that the Private Colleges Accreditation Board was given greater authority. In 1995, there was additional public consultation on how PCAB should set their processes in place to allow private, for-profit institutions to become degree accredited."
In April of 1998, PCAB released their handbook, and DeVry has been involved ever since. Ballheim recounted four years of consultations and recommendations with the board's nine independent reviewers, citing stacks of four foot tall documents. "Knowledgeable people," he mused, "cannot be surprised by this [development]."
He also addressed concerns DeVry would compete for research grants and other public funds, explaining that it would be counterproductive to DeVry's educational mandate. "We don't want to be another university," he said. "We are a teaching institution. There's no reason I can ever think of that we would ever want to go down that pathway."
"We don't want to be another university," he said. "We are a teaching institution. There's no reason I can ever think of that we would ever want to go down that pathway." for the last 17 years and with this latest step in his institution's evolution, he has no plans to go anywhere.
"We've got long-term vision and goals and we've demonstrated that we're extremely patient. I think that should take some of the concern away from those people who think we're just in this for the profit. We're in the business of making young people happy in their lives, we've got a good strategic goal for where we want to be, and we're not distracted by short-term profit motives."