Nipissing University is closing its 12-year-old joint program in teacher education with Wilfrid Laurier University, in a decision that reflects declining interest in a teaching career in Ontario and changes to government funding announced last year.

Once the 875 students currently in the program graduate, Nipissing will no longer offer a concurrent education degree at the Brantford, Ont., campus of Wilfrid Laurier where the program is based. After five years, students graduated with a bachelor of arts from Wilfrid Laurier and a bachelor of education from Nipissing. New teachers in Ontario face a difficult job market as retirements have slowed down and programs ramped up, a mismatch unlikely to change for years to come.

“Students are very savvy, their parents are very savvy, and students are very careful to make selections about their education that they feel will give them an opportunity for work in the future,” said Nipissing University president Michael DeGagné.

The latest survey from the Ontario College of Teachers found that job prospects for new teachers are abysmal. Two out of every five new graduates in 2013 could not land any daily supply-teaching over the course of a year. Even after four or five years on the job market, only half of teachers were able to find full-time work.

The Nipissing program is not the first to close its doors. This spring, the University of Toronto announced it would end its undergraduate concurrent degree and focus on master’s level education. Nipissing University spoke to the government before taking its decision, but no other solution was forthcoming, Dr. DeGagné said.

“We recognize that these decisions are often difficult and can impact local communities like Brantford. It is disappointing that a more positive resolution could not be reached,” said the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in a statement, adding that it was reassured that current students would not be affected.

Last year, the province moved to reduce the number of teachers and the attractiveness of offering undergraduate teacher education for universities. It doubled the length of degrees to two years and reduced the per-student funding universities receive for education programs by approximately 25 per cent. Longer training programs are standard in the rest of Canada, where new graduates are also having trouble securing work.

Nipissing still has 450 students enrolled in its post-BA education program at its campus in North Bay and 243 full and part-time master’s students. Both programs will continue. Enrolments were down 4.5 per cent across all the university’s education programs and down 2 per cent across the province.

As a result of the announcement, Wilfrid Laurier will look at whether it makes sense to expand its small teacher-education program in Waterloo and examine how to preserve the society, culture and environment major in which most of the education students are enrolled.

In spite of poor employment prospects in the teaching profession, education degrees are still valuable, said Heidi Northwood, the dean of the faculty of liberal arts at Laurier.

“There are a lot of things that one can do with the skills that don’t lead to a particular job in a classroom. The being able to speak in public comfortably, the clarity. It’s a matter of having students be aware of the skills they are getting so they recognize all the things that are open to them,” she said.

The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Dec. 16 2014, 8:56 PM EST
Last updated Tuesday, Dec. 16 2014, 9:00 PM EST