College Quarterly
Fall 2004 - Volume 7 Number 4

Program Advisory Committees: Evolution of a Partnership

by Vivian Leppard, B. Math, Master of Arts Candidate, Central Michigan University


This article examines the way Program Advisory Committees have developed in North America since the end of the Second World War. It examines the functions of the committees and notes similarities in the way they operate in various jurisdictions. It concludes by considering their current value to several stakeholder groups.


Program Advisory Committees, or Curriculum Advisory Committees as they are sometimes known, are a feature of most community colleges in the United States and Canada. In the United States, they developed after World War II from the tradition of community oversight of local schools. By 1958 there were 12,000 communities with advisory committees in place to assist their schools (Folley, 1974, p. 20). With the growth in the community college system, this number exploded and no one seems really sure how many there are today. In Canada, they have been present in community colleges in most provinces since the colleges were first established.

It is not surprising that advisory committees are such an important part of the college tradition. Community colleges generally are set up to serve their local community and they must remain responsive to community needs and interests. They are focused on skills training and career-oriented programs. These types of programs are tied very tightly to market conditions and technological change. Well integrated advisory committees can be very powerful tools for keeping program offerings current in such a climate. Their members assist with curriculum development, internships for students, acquisition of technology and equipment and student placement in local industries. It is important to the viability of any community that there be local opportunities available for education and employment. Community colleges working closely with their advisory committees can create such opportunities.

In the United States, the federal Vocational Education Act of 1976 and the Education Code require the establishment of local vocational advisory committees at the district level (Anderson, 1983, p. 1). These committees provide a forum for discussion between industry and education at the district level but are not intended to supply aid at the program level for individual colleges.

Program Advisory Committees Across Canada

In Canada, program advisory committees are an integral part of community colleges in every province and are usually mandated as part of the enabling legislation for the colleges. They tend to have similar goals and structures. This similarity is unlikely to be serendipitous but more a result of committee success in jurisdictions where they are already well-established.

A perusal of the websites of community colleges in British Columbia very quickly turns up many examples of policies and procedures which deal with the establishment, structuring and operation of advisory committees at the program level in each college. College of the Rockies in British Columbia publishes their Procedures Manual, including a section on "External Program Advisory Committees: Terms of Reference," which was issued in 1986 and seems to have been updated regularly since (College of the Rockies, 2001). The procedure covers the mandate, role, composition, meetings and decision-making process of these committees. Other colleges in British Columbia, such as Malaspina University-College, Vancouver Community College and Douglas College all publish similar policies for the operation of their advisory committees (Malaspina University-College, 2001; Vancouver Community College, n.d.; Douglas College, 1999). The content of these policies is very similar.

Lethbridge Community College in Alberta has an academic policy which mandates: "A program advisory committee shall be established for each ongoing program of the Lethbridge Community College in order to provide an effective link between the community and the College to advise on such matters as program policies, curricula, employment trends, and standards to ensure delivery of quality and relevant education" (Lethbridge Community College, 1997).

Also in Alberta, the current Business Plan for Medicine Hat College outlines a plan to "refine existing programs and offer new programs in response to student and labour market demand." One tool the plan commits to to meet this goal is to "continue to promote, foster, develop and consult with advisory committees for all College programs" (Medicine Hat College, 2004, p. 13).

At Assiniboine Community College in Manitoba, each program offered has a program advisory committee and a description of the committee is available on the public area of the College website (Assiniboine Community College, n.d., a). Even before programs are operational, the website area for the program will include an outline of purpose and operation of the Program Advisory Committee which will be established when the program is implemented (Assiniboine Community College, n.d., b).

In Ontario, program advisory committees were established by section 7 of Regulation 770 of the Ministry of Colleges and University Act of 1965. As reported in the ACAATO document "The Current 'Charter' for Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology", the regulation states that "the advisory committee shall advise the board and make recommendations regarding programs of instruction and the introduction of new programs of instruction" (ACAATO, n.d.) In 1996, more than 10,000 employers sat on program advisory committees across the province (ACAATO, 1996). This figure emphasizes the importance of the community colleges to local businesses in their communities.

In Nova Scotia, section 67 (1) of the Community Colleges Act states that "The Board [of the college] may establish program advisory committees for one or more programs of study offered at the College to be comprised of members appointed by the Board" (Province of Nova Scotia, 2002).

The Yukon College Act establishes "community campus committees" which do not necessarily operate at the program level but which are mandated to advise the campuses concerning local needs for programs and services (Yukon College Act, 2002, s.9(1)).

Committee Membership and Mandate

The composition of program advisory committees is fairly consistent. Typically, program advisory committees have a minimum of nine or ten and a maximum of fourteen or fifteen members. The committees have to be small enough to be workable but large enough to provide a cross section of the business and college communities they serve.

The composition of the committees is similar across Canada. Douglas College in British Columbia includes appointees from employers of program graduates, relevant licensing bodies, professional associations or trade unions, representatives of other educational institutions where appropriate and graduates from the programs (Douglas College, 1999). In Alberta, Lethbridge Community College policy calls for 10 to 15 members selected from employers of graduates, public sector representatives with an interest in the program, students from each year of the program, graduates and interested members from the community at large (Lethbridge Community College, 1997). At Assiniboine Community College in Manitoba program advisory committee members include community leaders, employers, the academic director, program faculty, a former student and current students (Assiniboine Community College, n.d., a). The Program Advisory Committees policy at Durham College in Ontario requires that committees:

Be composed of from ten to fourteen persons, including a current student and a recent graduate of the program … current and potential employers, persons with specific program related skills, persons with directly relevant interest and expertise, members from related associations … as appropriate. (Durham College, p. 2)

All committees include the Dean or Academic Director of the course and all contain students from the program. Faculty are encouraged to attend meetings whenever possible. Organizational and clerical support is provided by the College.

Members are solicited by the academic departments involved from among local business and community leaders who can contribute to the programs in a number of ways. The committees serve several functions. A partial list includes the following:

  • Present and ultimately approve recommendations for new programs and assist in the development of their objectives and curricula. Recommend faculty qualifications;
  • Assist in the periodic evaluation of existing programs and suggest changes to them to keep the content and teaching methods current;
  • Recommend equipment purchases and upgrades for technical programs. Sometimes members of the advisory committee are called upon to help fundraise for the equipment or arrange its donation to the college;
  • Review job preparation of the graduates and recommend ways in which their job readiness can be improved;
  • Advise faculty on possible internship opportunities for students and provide such opportunities themselves whenever possible;
  • Provide feedback on the effectiveness and competence of graduates from the program;
  • Help with fundraising for the college;
  • Sometimes provide bursaries or scholarships for students in the programs;
  • Act as ambassadors for the college and its programs to the community at large;
  • Advocate for the college to various levels of government;
  • Assist in the professional development of staff;
  • Assist in the recruitment of students.

Committee Operation

Committees typically meet twice a year. Meetings are usually chaired by an industry representative on the committee. Faculty members are generally encouraged to attend meetings even if they are not on the committee and are not presenting to it. Each meeting has an agenda which may be set by the advisory committee chair or by the academic department head involved or through some cooperative method between them. Normally the department head or dean is responsible for calling the meeting and advising members of the date and the agenda for the meeting. Agenda items can usually be suggested by any member of the committee. The dean also arranges for a recording secretary who produces and distributes the minutes from the meeting.

Committee members are universally volunteers. Typical terms of office for members are two to three years, with two years being most common and the committees are structured so that not every term expires at the same time. Some committees allow a limited number of repeat terms for individual members. This allows new input while taking advantage of developing expertise and ensures continuity from one year to the next.

Subcommittees are sometimes formed to deal with specific issues such as new program development or program evaluation. These subcommittees meet more frequently than does the full committee and report back to a scheduled meeting of the full committee. Membership ends when the subcommittee submits its final recommendations and disbands. These ad hoc committees may draw on the wider community for members and not rely solely on the existing committee membership.

Value of Program Advisory Committees

All stakeholder groups receive value from a well-functioning and active program advisory committee. Students are assured of relevant course content, up-to-date equipment in labs which resemble those they will work in when they graduate, internships with companies which understand the program and are committed to student success, speakers on relevant issues for their program, and help in finding placements in their chosen disciplines when they graduate.

Faculty members are assured that the courses they teach are relevant and effective. Some may have started at a company which participates in the advisory committee for the program and moved into teaching from that base. Committee members are available to help with trend forecasting and other assistance when new programs are being considered and existing ones evaluated. Employer members provide feedback about how well the students are prepared when they leave the program so that faculty can be assured that their efforts are successful. Contact with the committee allows faculty to make contacts within the business community which allow them to keep current in their field so they can offer their students more relevant and up-to-date instruction.

Administrators receive help with fundraising and sometimes equipment donations or expertise sharing. Active advisory committees help the college to develop a higher profile in the community. This in turn helps in efforts to get students and their parents to consider the programs offered. When community leaders have an intimate knowledge of the programs offered and have faith in their quality, it is easier to place students with local companies. Because the members of the committees tend to be prominent in their communities they are in a position to assist with lobbying various levels of government for support for the college.

Members also benefit from their tenures on the advisory committees. The committees provide a way to keep in touch with the programs training their workforces and to have an impact on the content and delivery of those training programs. The meetings provide an opportunity to network with other members of the community. Thoughtfully designed and well supervised internships benefit the employer as much as they do the student.

A Dean interviewed for this article is hoping to take his advisory committee in a new direction by involving it in strategic planning for his programs (Seath, 2004). Typically the committee has become involved with decisions which are well on the way to being implemented. He hopes to use committee expertise in the early stages of the strategic planning process to enhance program offerings and benefit his students.


Program advisory committees have been around in one form or another since the end of the Second World War. Community colleges are expected to keep aware of the needs of the community and to meet those needs whenever possible. The effective use of strong program advisory committees is one way to meet this mandate. All members of the academic and local communities benefit from their implementation and effective use. A significant amount of time and effort is required on the part of college administration and faculty to ensure smooth functioning of these committees.


Anderson, Will. (1983). Vocational Education advisory Committees. Report to the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges September 15-16, 1983. Inglewood, CA.

Assiniboine Community College. (n.d., a.) Comprehensive Health Care Aide Program Advisory Committee. Retrieved October 10, 2004, from

Assiniboine Community College. (n.d., b) Wireless Telecommunications Engineering Technology Program Advisory Committee. Retrieved October 10, 2004, from

Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario (ACAATO). (1996). The Future of Ontario Community Colleges: Recommendations to Advisory Panel on Postsecondary Education October 31, 1996. Retrieved March 21, 2004, from

Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario (ACAATO). (n.d.) The Current "Charter" for Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology. Retrieved April 4, 2004, from www.acaato.on/new/index.html

College of the Rockies (2001). College Procedures Manual: 7 – External Program Advisory Committees Terms of Reference. Retrieved April 4, 2004, from

Douglas College. (1999). Educational Policies: Program Advisory Committees. Retrieved April 4, 2004, from

Folley, Vern L. (1974). Some Facts About Curriculum Development Committees. Community and Junior College Journal, 44(7), 20-22.

Lethbridge Community College. (1997). College Policies & Procedures: Policy Number 2.3: Advisory Committees. Retrieved April 4, 2004, from

Malaspina University-College. (2001). Policy 31.09 Program Advisory Committees. Retrieved April 4, 2004, from

Medicine Hat College. (2004) Medicine Hat College 2004 – 2008 Business Plan. Retrieved October 10, 2004, from

Nova Scotia, Province of. (1995-1996) Community Colleges Act. Retrieved September 28, 2004, from

Seath, Ted. (2004, April 6). (Dean, School of Business, Durham College) Personal interview.

Vancouver Community College. (n.d.). Business and Community Page. Retrieved April 4, 2004, from

Yukon, Government of. (2002) Yukon College Act. Retrieved September 28, 2004, from

Vivian Leppard has a Bachelor of Mathematics degree from the University of Waterloo. She is currently a Master of Arts in Education candidate enrolled in a Central Michigan University cohort at Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario. She has taught in a variety of venues and is currently employed in the Utility sector. She can be reached at


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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2004 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology