The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials

Alberta's adult learning system is guided by a strategic vision based on the principles of accessibility, accountability, quality, affordability, and coordination. Alberta's adult learning system aims to ensure that system partners collaborate to deliver quality postsecondary educational opportunities for all Albertans regardless of financial circumstances.

Integral to the adult learning system vision is the Roles and Mandates Policy Framework for Alberta's Publicly Funded Advanced Education System. By broadly defining six types of publicly funded institutions, the model serves as a foundation for building a coordinated system that values sector and institutional differentiation, leveraging the strengths of individual postsecondary institutions.

The publicly funded postsecondary system consists of the following six sectors:
  • Comprehensive Academic and Research Universities (CARUs)
  • Comprehensive Community Colleges (CCCs)
  • Independent Academic Institutions (IAIs)
  • Polytechnical Institutions (PIs)
  • Specialized Arts and Culture Institutions (SACIs)
  • Undergraduate Universities (UUs)

The adult learning system is comprised of a wide range of educational providers, including publicly funded postsecondary institutions, First Nations Colleges, community adult learning organizations, private career colleges, and others.

The Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer (ACAT) is an advisory agency that contributes to Alberta's adult learning system by working collaboratively with stakeholders to provide oversight, support and advice about learner pathways and mobility, with a focus on students, admissions and transfer. ACAT advises Alberta Advanced Education and Alberta Learner Pathways System members in Alberta and other jurisdictions and collaborates with provincial partners. ACAT's role includes providing leadership for best practices, guidelines, procedures, data standards and an accessible and coordinated system that supports all learners. ACAT supports postsecondary and system collaboration, data and information access and tools via Transfer Alberta to support student planning and pathways, and articulation and research to facilitate student mobility. ACAT also supports learners' movement into, within, and from the adult learning system and the workforce, including support for learner pathways such as transfer, admissions, prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR), dual credit, and interprovincial mobility. ACAT will also be experiencing a renewed mandate and governance in 2019.

Alberta's adult learning system is strengthened through a commitment to online learning and the application of technology to support high-quality learning outcomes.

Alberta Advanced Education is committed to accessible postsecondary education through increased system capacity and access for students. Alberta's 11 Comprehensive Community Colleges work collaboratively with other adult learning system providers, such as community adult learning providers, First Nations Colleges, and other stakeholders to enhance access to adult foundational and other postsecondary opportunities within their respective regions or the province. As well, the ministry continues to explore enhancing access to new learning opportunities for Albertans in rural and remote areas. The ministry is dedicated to raising awareness about planning for postsecondary studies as it encourages parents to prepare financially and motivates students and educators to get involved in the planning process. Assistance with planning is readily available to support all Albertans in their learning pursuits.

The formal postsecondary system in Alberta began when the first government adopted the creation of a provincial university as a high priority. The University of Alberta began operation in 1908 under government policy that reflected a centralized university model. Over time, the centralized model was challenged and branch campuses in Calgary and Lethbridge were established. Eventually, increasing demand for university education led to the establishment of the University of Calgary in 1966, and then later the establishment of the University of Lethbridge. Athabasca University, modeled on the British "open university," was set up in the 1970s to provide distance education programs, primarily to part-time adult learners. In 2009, two baccalaureate and applied studies institutions were renamed to Grant MacEwan University and Mount Royal University in recognition of their role in providing bachelor's degrees.

In 1916, the province began funding vocational training and opened the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art with a mandate to provide technical training to returning soldiers, industrial arts teachers and the "maturing youth" of the province. The provincial and federal support of technical vocational training and the rapid economic growth of the province through the oil boom in the 1950s and, to a greater extent, recent growth in the province, have helped shape Alberta's focus on technical and vocational training and the evolution of Alberta's Apprenticeship and Industry Training system.

Private colleges emerged in Alberta in 1903 and formed the basis for college-level education in the province. In 1957, Alberta's first public junior college opened in Lethbridge. The early versions of the University Act also contained provisions that formed the basis for establishment of junior colleges through affiliation agreements and with university delegated authority over these colleges. By the late 1960s, a network of colleges and polytechnic institutions had been established in centres throughout the province.

In 2004, the ministry responsible for advanced education combined its Universities Act, Banff Centre Act, Colleges Act, and Technical Institutes Act into one comprehensive Post-secondary Learning Act to support the Campus Alberta vision and to further educational opportunities in the province. The Act also opened opportunities for more institutions to offer degree programs and established the Campus Alberta Quality Council as a key player in the degree program approval process. Prior to the proclamation of the Post-secondary Learning Act, the ministry introduced a new Private Vocational Training Regulation that updated, reorganized, and clarified the requirements of the former regulation. Alberta's postsecondary system will continue to enhance and improve upon the Campus Alberta model to suit the learning needs of all Albertans.

In 2007, the ministry responsible for advanced education released the Roles and Mandates Policy Framework for Alberta's Publicly Funded Advanced Education System. The Framework categorizes the province's public postsecondary institutions into a six-sector model that indicates the types of programs an institution offers, as well as its research activity.

Alberta's Post-secondary Learning Act and the Roles and Mandates Policy Framework are intended to advance the concept of Campus Alberta by further developing a postsecondary system that is accessible, flexible, and responsive to the needs of all Albertans. The Framework describes sector and individual institutions in the areas of academic programming, research activity and geographic focus. By defining six broad types of publicly-funded institutions, the Framework serves as a foundation for presenting a differentiated adult learning system.

In Alberta, with the exception of the boards of Independent Academic Institutions and the board of The Banff Centre, the governing boards of publicly funded postsecondary institutions are appointed by the Minister responsible for advanced education.


Comprehensive Academic and Research Universities (CARUs)


Alberta has four universities categorized as Comprehensive Academic and Research Universities (CARUs) under the Roles and Mandates Policy Framework: the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the University of Lethbridge, and Athabasca University. The Universities of Alberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge are campus-based, while Athabasca University is a distance-learning university. Credentials awarded by the universities include bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.

The University of Alberta and the University of Calgary offer a broad range of graduate and undergraduate degree programs and account for much of the province's university research capabilities. The University of Lethbridge offers undergraduate degree programs and some graduate degree programs, and also provides the first two years of study in fields such as medicine, dentistry, and engineering for transfer to other institutions. Athabasca University, specializing in part-time and distance education, offers undergraduate degree programs in fields such as business, integrated studies, distance education, science, and nursing, as well as some graduate degree programs.


Comprehensive Community Colleges (CCCs)


Alberta has eleven public colleges in the Comprehensive Community Colleges (CCCs) sector of the Roles and Mandates Policy Framework. These colleges provide a range of programming from academic upgrading to applied degrees. They may also offer apprenticeship technical training, the first two years of certain baccalaureate degree programs, and baccalaureate degrees independently or in collaboration with degree-granting institutions. Research activity at CCCs is largely focused on applied research and scholarly activity to enhance their instructional mandate.

The colleges within the CCC sector are also responsible for providing stewardship of adult learning opportunities for defined geographic regions within the province. This includes more closely aligning with the province's community adult learning programs that provide learning opportunities to support literacy and foundational learning, including numeracy, basic computer and foundational life skills, and English language learning.


Independent Academic Institutions (IAIs)


Alberta has five Independent Academic Institutions (IAIs). These institutions are considered private universities, although they receive public funding for approved degree programs. In addition to baccalaureate degrees, they may also offer graduate degrees in specified areas, as well as independent programming through which they may issue their own certification or accreditation through other national or international bodies. Some of Alberta's IAIs have religious denominational affiliations; however, students of all faiths are welcome. They may also offer divinity degrees and other programs that do not need approval of the minister responsible for advanced education.


Polytechnic Institutions (PIs)


Alberta has two Polytechnic Institutions (PIs): the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton (NAIT) and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary. These institutions may offer apprenticeship, certificates, diplomas, applied degrees, and in limited cases, other baccalaureate degrees. They also offer continuing education programs and are increasingly involved in applied research initiatives. PIs respond to market needs and offer programs tailored to workplace requirements.


Specialized Arts and Culture Institutions (SACIs)


Alberta has two Specialized Arts and Culture Institutions (SACIs), each of which serves a unique set of learners. The Alberta College of Art and Design offers bachelor's and master's degree programming focused on visual culture and design. The Banff Centre specializes in non-credit professional development opportunities in fine arts, management studies, language training, and environmental training. Banff Centre students usually have academic credentials and/or professional experience in their area of study prior to admission.


Undergraduate Universities (UUs)


Alberta has three Undergraduate Universities : MacEwan University (formerly Grant MacEwan University) in Edmonton and Mount Royal University and the Alberta University of the Arts in Calgary. These institutions are publicly funded and provide a range of programming from academic upgrading to baccalaureate degrees, including applied degrees. Their research activity is largely focused on applied research and scholarly activity to enhance their instructional mandate.


Apprenticeship and Industry Training


The Alberta apprenticeship and industry training system is an industry-driven system. Industry (employers and employees) establishes training and certification standards in more than 50 designated trades and occupations and provides direction to the system through an industry committee network and the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board. The government provides the legislative framework and administrative support. In addition to sitting on the committees, individual employers support the apprenticeship and industry training system by employing and ensuring on-the-job mentorship for apprentices, thereby providing them with the opportunity to develop their skills on the job.

Eleven public postsecondary institutions (Polytechnic Institutions and Comprehensive Community Colleges) provide most of the technical training portion of the apprenticeship program, based on course outcomes. Post-secondary trade and occupation certificates are granted by the Minister responsible for advanced education, and are held in high regard across Canada. Alberta consistently trains approximately 20 per cent of the nation's apprentices despite only having 13 per cent of Canada's labour force.


Private Vocational Trainers offering licensed programs


There are approximately 150 private trainers that offer licensed vocational training in Alberta. The programs they provide respond to current labour market demand. Licensed vocational training programs prepare students for employment in a wide variety of occupations. Although private vocational trainers do not receive operating funding from the government, student financial assistance may be available to students enrolled in licensed vocational training programs. Private vocational trainers offer their own credentials for licensed programs.


Differences between certificate, diploma, and degree programs at universities, colleges, and technical institutes


Alberta Apprenticeship programs are available in approximately 49 designated trades in Alberta. Such programs start with an individual choosing a trade and finding an employer. Apprenticeship programs in most of the trades take between three and four years to complete. Apprentices spend about 80 per cent of their time gaining on-the-job training and experience and 20 per cent attending classes at a Polytechnic Institution or Comprehensive Community Institution. Individuals who complete these apprenticeship programs may be eligible to write an Interprovincial Standards (Red Seal) Program examination. If successful on the examination, the Red Seal endorsement, which is widely recognized across Canada, is affixed to their provincial certification.

Certificate programs prepare students for entry into specific occupations. They normally involve one year or less of full-time study at a Baccalaureate and Applied Studies Institution, Polytechnic Institution, Comprehensive Community Institution, or, in some instances, at a Comprehensive Academic and Research Institution. Certificate programs normally require the completion of some high school studies for admission. In addition to the certificates described, a variety of other certificate programs are offered as pathways into employment or further study, and require higher admission standards (e.g., post-diploma, post-bachelor's and post-master's certificates).

Diploma programs generally prepare students for employment in a particular field or group of occupations. They normally involve two years of full-time study at a Baccalaureate and Applied Studies Institution, Polytechnic Institution, Comprehensive Community Institution, or, in some instances at a Comprehensive Academic and Research Institution. In addition to the diploma as described, a variety of other diplomas are offered as pathways into employment or further study, and requiring higher admission standards (e.g., post-bachelor's and post-master's diplomas).

Applied degree programs provide enhanced career preparation at the bachelor's level that applies to a broader range of career and employment opportunities beyond entry level in an industry. Applied degree programs may be offered only by institutions that have received approval from the Minister responsible for advanced education. Some Baccalaureate and Applied Studies Institutions, Polytechnic Institutions, and Comprehensive Community Institutions offer these programs, which normally consist of about three years of academic studies and about one year of related, supervised work experience in industry. Applied degree programs may have admission requirements similar to those of diploma programs. Completion of a related diploma program may be a prerequisite for admission into year three of an applied degree program. Since 2004, in order to receive approval for new applied degree programs, institutions must meet specific quality requirements consistent with the Ministerial Statement on Quality Assurance of Degree Education in Canada.

Bachelor's degree programs usually require four years to complete but program length may vary by discipline and institution. Programs longer than four years often incorporate a co-op or work study component. For information on admission, please consult the "Admission Requirements" section below. Bachelor's degree programs may be offered only by institutions that have received approval from the Minister responsible for advanced education (except for degrees in divinity). In order to receive approval, institutions must meet specific quality requirements consistent with the Ministerial Statement on Quality Assurance of Degree Education in Canada. In Alberta, bachelor's degree programs are currently offered at four Comprehensive Academic and Research Institutions, two Baccalaureate and Applied Studies Institutions, two Polytechnic Institutions, five Independent Academic Institutions, one Comprehensive Community College, and one Specialized Arts and Culture Institution.

Master's degree programs normally involve two years of full-time university study beyond the bachelor's degree level. These programs require a bachelor's degree for admission. Applicants who have a three-year bachelor's degree are usually required to complete an additional qualifying year. Master's programs may be thesis- or course-based. These programs may be offered only by institutions that have received approval from the Minister responsible for advanced education (except for degrees in divinity). In order to receive approval, institutions must meet specific quality requirements consistent with the Ministerial Statement on Quality Assurance of Degree Education in Canada. Currently, master's programs are offered by each of the four Comprehensive Academic and Research Institutions as well as at one Independent Academic Institution and a number of non-resident institutions.

Doctoral degree programs normally require two or three years of full-time university study and research beyond the master's degree level. Doctoral programs involve planning and carrying out high-quality research leading to advanced knowledge in the student's field of study. These programs normally include the preparation of a dissertation on an approved topic. Doctoral degree programs may be offered only by institutions that have received approval from the Minister responsible for advanced education (except for degrees in divinity). In order to receive approval, institutions must meet specific quality requirements consistent with the Ministerial Statement on Quality Assurance of Degree Education in Canada. In Alberta, doctoral degrees are offered by each of the four Comprehensive Academic and Research Institutions.


Community Adult Learning Organizations


The Community Adult Learning Program (CALP) is a network of 102 funded organizations, and is a key mechanism for the delivery of literacy and foundational learning along the adult learning continuum in Alberta. Funded organizations facilitate part-time, primarily non-formal adult learning opportunities (that do not lead to a credential) in local communities with the goal of building foundational skills that learner can use in their everyday lives, , including literacy, numeracy, basic digital technology, foundational life skills, and English language learning. Funded organizations strive to build safe and welcoming local access points to meet the unique needs of the learners that walk through their doors, many of whom have had negative experiences in formal education and face one or more social and/or economic barriers to learning. Organizations also work closely with other learning providers in their communities, including their local Comprehensive Community Colleges, and First Nations Colleges, to identify learning needs and work together to address those needs. The program's vision is to change lives through adult foundational learning in connected communities.


First Nations College Grant


The Government of Alberta provides the five First Nations Colleges in Alberta with stable, annual funding under the First Nations College Grant to support initiatives and activities that enhance basic skills, increase access, and improve both retention and learning outcomes for students. The grant supports activities that are relevant in culture and language, respectful of diversity, and support the development of Indigenous knowledge. This grant may complement other sources of funding and ‘in kind' resources that enhance the provision of a range of learning opportunities, including literacy and essential skills, academic preparation for postsecondary studies, certificate and diploma programs, and degree programs in partnership with public institutions.

Alberta has three years of senior high school, grades 10 through 12, leading to an Alberta high school diploma.

Publicly funded institutions normally require a high school diploma for admission to certificate and diploma programs, but academic requirements vary by program. Prospective students should consult the institution(s) of their choice for details. Institutions typically require, at a minimum, a specified number of high school courses or a high school diploma for admission, along with demonstrated English language proficiency and program specific requirements.

Each degree-granting institution in Alberta sets its own admission requirements as well as criteria for recognizing academic qualifications obtained in Canadian jurisdictions and abroad. Typically, five grade 12-level courses (or equivalents) are required. Admission averages required to enter an undergraduate program, either directly from high school or through transfer from another postsecondary institution, vary by institution, faculty, and program. Admission to programs that have enrolment limits may require competitive marks higher than the minimum admission requirements set out in the academic calendar. Mature applicants who do not meet normal admission requirements may be considered with differing qualifications. Competency in English is required of international students. Prospective students should consult the institution(s) of their choice for further details on admission.

Alberta Advanced Education aims to provide accessible, affordable, high-quality learning opportunities in Alberta. Through Student Aid Alberta, Alberta Advanced Education provides a variety of funding supports for postsecondary learners:

  • Student loans reduce financial barriers and help students meet basic education and living costs. Alberta student loan borrowers benefit from flexible repayment options and student loans are interest-free during a student's studies as well as six months after the borrower leaves studies.
  • Grants are available to Alberta student loan borrowers, including low-income student loan borrowers and those caring for children, to improve affordable access to postsecondary studies.
  • Scholarships recognize students who demonstrate excellence in academics.
  • Awards incent access and participation in postsecondary learning opportunities through acknowledging achievements in leadership and community engagement and athletic achievement.

Student aid Alberta administers the Canada Student Loans Program to Albertans on behalf of the Government of Canada

The Government of Alberta also assists eligible Albertans pursuing academic upgrading and other foundational programs to support transitions into postsecondary studies and help Albertans gain meaningful employment. Eligible Albertans receive grant funding to help cover tuition, mandatory feed, books and supplies, living expenses and health benefits.

The Post-secondary Learning Act limits the average of tuition fee increases at public postsecondary institutions to a composite Alberta Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Canadian citizens and permanent residents. In addition, the Tuition and Fees Regulation limits tuition increases to any individual program approved by the Minister to a maximum of 10%.For the 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic years specifically, tuition fees for both apprenticeship and non-apprenticeship programs are frozen at levels in effect for the 2014/15 academic year.

The Tuition and Fees Regulation also permits institutions and student associations to jointly apply for exceptional tuition increases which do not count towards the institution's average tuition, and which can exceed 10%. In the event that such an increase is approved by the department, the exceptional tuition increase is applied to incoming cohorts and currently enrolled students are grandfathered.

Public postsecondary institutions in Alberta have the flexibility to set different tuition rates for students who are not Canadian citizens, refugees or permanent residents of Canada. Beginning in the 2020/21 academic year, institutions will be required to inform international students of the maximum tuition they will be charged in each year of their program in admissions letters. Institutions are not permitted to increase these guaranteed rates over the course of the standard duration of the program. Fees charged to international students vary by institution but are generally competitive with those of postsecondary institutions in other Canadian provinces.

Mandatory Non-Instructional Fees are also regulated in Alberta. These fees are charged for non-instructional services that enhance the student experience which learners are required to pay in order to enroll in an approved program of study. Institutions cannot introduce a new MNIF without the approval of institutional student associations, and existing MNIFs cannot be charged at levels which exceed cost-recovery.

To view the most current tuition and fees for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and international students, please consult institutions' websites or contact the institution(s) directly. International students may consult the following web page for tuition and fee estimates.


Comprehensive review of this information: January 2019