Implementation begins on new Ontario college public relations program standards

Blair Peberdy APR, FCPRS LM, CPRS National Council on Education

The Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) has been pleased to contribute to the development of the Ontario public relations program standards for colleges and was gratified to note that when the government standards were published in 2014, they aligned with the outcomes-based approach pioneered by CPRS in the Pathways to the Profession (published March 2011). The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is now starting implementation of these public relations program standards and CPRS is gratified by the Ministry’s decision to recognize the indispensable elements of public relations education: maintaining ethical standards; serving the public interest; and realizing organizational goals. These have long been recognized by CPRS to be key objectives of public relations practice¹.

The development of program standards generally was initiated by the Government of Ontario in 1993 with the objective of bringing consistency to college programming offered across the province. The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has responsibility for the development, review and approval of system-wide standards for programs and instruction at the colleges and it does so through extensive consultation with a broad base of internal and external stakeholders.

CPRS actively supported the development and growth of Canadian post-secondary Public Relations programs for decades and welcomed the news in 2012 that the Ministry was, as part of its ongoing mandate, launching an exhaustive and inclusive process to review the vocational standards for Ontario College Public Relations Diploma, Advanced Diploma and Graduate Certificate programs. The process involved convening focus group sessions with Deans, Directors, Program Coordinators and faculty members; broad-based surveys of employers, advisory committee members, professional associations, and graduates; and consultation on the validity and appropriateness of the review process with College Vice-Presidents, Academic.

Four regional focus groups were held beginning in the Fall of 2012 and representatives from CPRS National were invited to attend and participate in all of them. The sessions included a total of 83 French and English participants evenly distributed between internal (academics, graduates, etc.) and external (employers, professional associations, etc.) stakeholders. Follow-up consultation, analysis, college review and validation was carried out in 2013.

The Ministry approved and published the updated program standards in February, 2014 and released them to the colleges for implementation in September, 2015. The Ministry is now consulting with the various college Vice-Presidents, Academic to determine which specific college public relations programs will be reviewed over the next three years.

“The consultation process was thorough, ensuring a broad range of stakeholders, from college faculty and administrators, to employers and recent graduates, all had the opportunity to provide input to the new standards,” says Barry Waite, Chair, School of Communications, Media & Design, Centennial College. “During each of the four sessions participants were given the opportunity to dig deep into the standards and identify the changes needed to ensure Ontario colleges continue to be leaders in PR education in Canada.”

The new standards, available for review on the Ministry’s website at provide a detailed and impressive framework for the development and delivery of college public relations programs in Ontario. These outcomes-based standards place renewed emphasis on stakeholder relations and writing skills, although the full range of communications skills required by today’s practitioners is covered. Of particular note is the focus on: strategy development and execution in support of organizational objectives; teamwork; ongoing career development; and ethical behaviour.

Jeff Roach, Coordinator of Seneca’s post–grad certificate programs in Corporate Communications and Investor Relations noted: “The new standards reflect a lot of thoughtful input from everyone involved including the Society. It was great to see so many proven professionals included in the process. The entry-level training available for people who want careers in the business keeps getting better because of this.”

At all diploma levels, government standards dictate that graduates will reliably demonstrate the ability to “comply with and support others to work in accordance with relevant professional association and industry codes of ethics, public relations professional standards and practices, and legal obligations, protocols and policies.”

Karen Dalton APR, CAE LM, Executive Director of the Canadian Public Relations Society commented: “It has been rewarding to see that ethical practice in the public interest, which for years has been a foundation of the Canadian Public Relations Society values and principles, has been recognized in these standards as an integral part of a reputable public relations program of studies.”

Echoing these sentiments, Heather Pullen, APR, Presiding Officer of the National Council on Education, remarked: “The new standards are consistent with the CPRS National Council on Education’s Pathways to the Profession initiative in a way that shows CPRS was truly at the forefront in recognizing the importance of outcomes-based standards for public relations programs.”

The detailed program standards are available online for the following public relations programs:
Ontario College Diploma
Ontario College Advanced Diploma
Ontario Graduate Certificate
¹CPRS definition of public relations: Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest. (Flynn, Gregory, & Valin, 2009)