NORTH BAY, Ont. - The province could be doing more to protect students from colleges handing out dubious diplomas and will looking at ways ensure people get the education they paid for, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday.
"I'm not sure it is adequate for us, at this point in time, simply to give notice online as to whether a college is legal or illegal, registered or unregistered," he said after an event in North Bay, Ont.
"I'm not sure we're doing enough."
McGuinty said he hadn't spoken to Minister of Colleges and Universities John Milloy about possible options yet, but added he would be looking into it.
He also said students, like any consumer, must pay attention to the services they're purchasing.
"We can't do everything. At some point, caveat emptor kicks in: Let the buyer beware when it comes to all sort of services, including education."
NDP education critic Rosario Marchese said McGuinty's promises came too late, but they also meant little given his government's track record with rogue colleges.
"I don't think they've taken any steps," he said.
"I believe nothing has been done - there is no oversight, there are no penalties."
Marchese said it should be the minister who takes responsibility for monitoring the colleges - not 20-year-old students - adding that suggesting it's just a case of "buyer beware" is "profoundly wrong."
"I get no security from those comments, given the multitude of stories coming out showing that students are without protection from unscrupulous operators," Marchese said.
Earlier this year, 11 students who graduated from the Health Information Management program at Sudbury's Cambrian College complained that it was unaccredited and did not adequately qualify them for jobs in their chosen field.
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin concluded that the province "abdicated" its responsibility to ensure the students were getting the education they paid for and recommended that the school compensate the students.
He warned that if the ministry didn't monitor the college programs it funded more strictly, there would be more cases like it.
It was Marin's second report criticizing how the Ministry of Colleges and Universities regulates college programs.
Milloy said Monday there was a good system in place, but noted some time was needed to adjust since any new rules meant a "culture shift" for colleges that may, in previous years, have been able to operate without a strict framework.
"I think we've made great strides," Milloy said.
The province will be bringing in fines for schools that break the rules, he added, and is working on a better website that makes it easier for students to get information about the colleges.
In July, the ombudsman released his findings on Bestech Academy, a private career college which, up until last year, operated campuses in Stoney Creek and St. Catharines, offering courses in gas technician training before closing and leaving students and staff out of pocket.
Marin's reports prompted two former students of Toronto's George Brown College to come forward with allegations that they were misled into taking a program that left them unqualified in their field.
Katrina Ramdath and Zsolt Kovessy, who took the International Business Management program at George Brown, claimed it didn't have the ability to confer the industry designations it promised.
The students had launched a proposed $10-million, class-action lawsuit against George Brown last October, but it has not been certified by the courts and the allegations have not been proven in court.