Non-degree-granting institutions


There are thousands of non-degree-granting postsecondary institutions in Canada. Of these, over 230 are recognized public colleges and institutes. A large number are registered or licensed private career colleges. In some cases, institutions are subject to other agreements and/or policies of provincial or territorial governments. These include, for example, a small number of designated learning institutions (DLI), some language schools, and flight schools.

A wide range of institutions may be considered non-degree-granting postsecondary institutions because they grant short-cycle academic credentials that are not degrees. For example, public colleges have historically had a mandate to focus primarily on short-cycle academic credentials. These institutions may also include universities and Indigenous Postsecondary Education Institutes (IPSIs), some of which grant degrees but also offer a range of short-cycle academic credentials.

Non-degree-granting institutions typically focus on diploma and certificate programs that lead to short-cycle academic credentials. Many are also authorized to provide degree-level programs, either independently or in cooperation with a university or other degree-granting institution.

Depending on the province or territory, public non-degree-granting institutions may be referred to as colleges, regional colleges, centres, colleges of applied arts and technology, polytechnics, community colleges, institutes, cégeps, language schools, or flight schools. They offer academic programs in a wide range of settings across the country, from large urban centres to remote and isolated communities. Facilities vary from large, well-equipped institutions to small training centres. Almost all provinces and territories have colleges that offer programs in both French and English, whether through dedicated colleges, specialized institutes, or extensive distance-education opportunities.

Private career colleges

Private non-degree-granting institutions may be called colleges, career colleges, career training institutes, vocational schools, or academies, depending on whether the province or territory in which they are located has nomenclature restrictions. Most operate as private businesses to deliver highly focused, occupationally oriented courses and programs.

Language schools

Canada has a large number of public and private language schools that specialize in teaching English or French, typically to newcomers to Canada. Languages Canada offers its members a mechanism for demonstrating compliance with its Quality Assurance Framework. Language schools typically offer programs that take place over a period of weeks, rather than months or years, and are typically based on the language level of the incoming student. In addition to membership through Languages Canada, some provinces and territories have their own framework for registration and oversight of language schools, while others have language schools register as private career colleges in order to host international students.

Aviation and defence sectors

Certain non-degree-granting institutions operate under the authorization of the federal government. These include Flight Training Units (flight schools, authorized by Transport Canada) and the training establishments of the Canadian Armed Forces (military training academies, authorized by Canada's Department of National Defence).

However, some provinces require flight schools to be registered as private career colleges in their jurisdiction in order to host international students.

Other institutions

There are non-degree-granting institutions that are not subject to any legal framework (such as recognition through legislation, or registration with the provincial or territorial authority), but that may be subject to other laws, regulations, or policies.

For example, many professional regulatory bodies and associations at the provincial, territorial, or pan-Canadian levels may offer academic program or mandatory professional development relevant to their practice area that are outside of provincial and territorial postsecondary legislation's scope under the purview of the ministry or department responsible for education.

Mandate and Focus

Non-degree-granting institutions are primarily teaching institutions. They are generally intended to be more career-focused than academic, research-intensive universities, and they typically focus on applied disciplines and develop programs through close consultation with employers and industry representatives. They are also more likely to be located in more rural or remote communities, and may be closely connected to the local population and municipality.

Those that are public colleges often have a specific mandate to focus on providing access to postsecondary education for a wider range of individuals who historically may not be able to attend university. They do this primarily through having lower tuition levels and by offering shorter, more flexible, career-oriented programming that is meant to lead graduates directly into employment in the labour market.

While many instructors at public non-degree-granting institutions hold doctoral degrees, relevant professional experience in technical or vocational fields is an important criterion for hiring instructors. In addition to regular instructor staff, part-time instructors are drawn from industry, secondary schools, universities, professional fields, and health and social services. Private non-degree-granting institutions are even more likely to have instructors whose qualifications are primarily the amount of experience they have working in the discipline.

Administration and Governance

Public non-degree-granting institutions are typically more closely regulated than universities. Unlike the bicameral system commonly in place for universities, public colleges typically have a single board of governors, with the majority of the members appointed by provincial or territorial governments. Boards have student, faculty, and community representation. Governments tend to be more involved with the overall direction of non-degree-granting institutions, and this involvement can extend to admission policies, academic program approval, curriculum, institutional planning, and working conditions. Academic program planning tends to rely on input from community, business, industry, and labour representatives serving on college advisory committees, with overall direction provided by college administrators. Programs are generally organized into schools, divisions, or departments. As with universities, colleges are typically led by a president.

Colleges tend to be smaller than universities. In some provinces and territories, there is one college that has a number of campuses across the entire province or territory. In other provinces and territories, college employees are unionized at the provincial and territorial level rather than at each institution, meaning that collective bargaining is centralized for the entire sector.

In most provinces and territories, private non-degree-granting institutions must follow legislated registration or licensing procedures in order to operate. This may include registering individual campuses and programs with the appropriate government ministry or department, and submitting financial security to the ministry or department to provide a fund to support students in the event a private non-degree-granting institution unexpectedly closes mid-way through a student's postsecondary program.


Public colleges, specialized institutes, community colleges, institutes of technology and advanced learning, polytechnics, and cégeps offer vocationally oriented programs in a wide range of professional and technical fields, including business, health, science, agriculture, applied arts, technology, skilled trades, and social services. Some specialized institutes offer training in a single field, such as art, fisheries, paramedical technology, or agriculture.

Diplomas are generally awarded for the successful completion of two- or three-year programs, while certificates most often take one year to complete. Cégeps in Quebec offer two-year academic programs required for university entrance, and three-year technical programs for labour-market entry. An increasing number of public colleges and other non-degree-granting institutions also offer degree programs. Most colleges offer programs on a two or three-semester basis. They also provide a wide range of credit and non-credit day and evening courses, both on and off campus, throughout the year. Cooperative education is part of many programs, with work placements being a requirement in addition to academic study. As with universities, colleges and other non-degree-granting institutions have implemented a wide range of digital learning tools and strategies, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several college systems offer university transfer programs that provide the first two years of a university undergraduate program. Universities and colleges also cooperate on integrated academic programs for which graduates receive both a degree and a diploma. Many universities and university colleges that predominantly grant degrees also offer diploma and certificate programs, often in professional designations. Generally speaking, university diplomas and certificates require one or two years of study. However, these programs vary widely from institution to institution, and from one province or territory to another.

In addition, these institutions often provide a number of programs that do not lead to a college certificate or diploma, and are not formal postsecondary education, such as adult basic-education and literacy programs; adult retraining, customized training for industry, professional upgrading, pre-employment, and pre-apprenticeship programs. Many colleges also offer specialized postgraduate diplomas to students who already hold a certificate, diploma, or degree.

Private non-degree-granting postsecondary institutions

Academic programs at private non-degree-granting postsecondary institutions tend to be shorter and more intensive than academic programs in public institutions. These private institutions usually award certificates and diplomas, and transferring credits or academic credentials obtained through these programs to further study at a public college or university is less common. Study periods at private non-degree-granting institutions tend to be measured in weeks and semesters, rather than in years.


Beyond certificates, diplomas, and other non-degree postsecondary academic credentials, colleges and other non-degree-granting institutions are typically heavily involved in apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship is an industry-driven form of postsecondary education that has established training and certification standards in designated trades and occupations. The Red Seal Program, formally known as the Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Program, also plays a role in setting common standards to assess the skills of tradespeople across Canada, in close cooperation with provincial and territorial apprenticeship authorities. Employers support the program by employing apprentices and giving them the opportunity to develop their skills on the job. Colleges offer the in-class portion of apprenticeship programs, providing up to eight weeks of class instruction in each year of the apprenticeship. The length of apprenticeship programs differs by trade, but is usually four years, with graduation resulting in a trade certificate, which in some trades is a necessary requirement to enter professional practice (also related to the Red Seal Program).

Comprehensive review of this information: March 2021