(Disclaimer: I work at Quest. In my opinion this is a remarkable and totally unique institution in Canada.)
A bit of clarification: it is true that Quest is modeled after small liberal arts colleges in the U.S. However, all universities are referred to as colleges in the U.S. They (and Quest) are very different than community colleges, junior colleges, or trade schools (not to disparage these, of course!). Some examples of these colleges include Dartmouth College and Harvard College. I assure you that graduates of these places have no trouble at all getting into graduate or professional school.
The model is not, however the larger, research oriented Ivies, but rather, small undergraduate focussed institutions. We don’t hear about them as much in Canada, but in the U.S., a degree from Reed, Bates, Williams or Colorado College is considered as prestigious and opens as many doors as a credential from a U.C., a large state school (think Michigan or UPenn) or an Ivy.
An interesting data point about the relative value of these kinds of places is that the graduates of small liberal arts colleges are hugely over-represented in research Ph.D.’s in pure science or medical research (by something like a factor of two to three, I can dig up a few studies if you like). That is, these small institutions that focus on undergraduate teaching and a broad based curriculum are far better at producing scientists than large research institutions. This jibes with my own anecdotal experience: in a Ph.D. program at MIT, more than half my colleagues came from small liberal arts colleges. Similar outcome data is available for law and medical schools.
Of course, this doesn’t by itself tell you that Quest is equivalent to the best of the American liberal arts colleges. These are just the model. As a fledgling institution, Quest does not yet have the reputation or multi-million dollar endowments that take years to build. As far as the recognition of the degree, however, a lot of effort has been made to ensure the recognition of the degree credential. Quest has its degree programme certified by an act of the BC legislature, certified by the Degree Quality Assessment Board (DQAB), is pending certification by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and is a member of the American Association for Liberal Eduction (the certifying body for liberal arts colleges in the US). Beyond that, Quest has received letters of support stating that Quest graduates will be eligible and welcome to apply to post graduate programmes at a good number of institutions, including all Canadian large research institutions (UofT, UBC, McGill, etc), all Canadian law schools, many Canadian medical schools, and quite a few American research and professional graduate schools (notably the Univeristy of California Berkeley).
In the end, there is still no easy answer to the question of whether Quest is worth it, compared to, say, UBC. UBC is a good institution, and offers many fine programmes. However, undergraduate education is not the priority there. As government funding formulas have evolved over the years, student:faculty ratios are more than twice what they were twenty years ago. Classes of 300 - 800 students are commonplace. If you are in a large program (say, Biology), it is difficult to develop the close relationships with faculty members that help get you meaningful reference letters for when you are thinking of applying to grad school or medical school. A big reason that the small undergraduate institutions do so well at placing their graduates is that students have lots of contact with faculty. I know all the students here on a first name basis, and I assure you it will be easier for me to help place these students into graduate schools or private sector jobs. This goes beyond securing recommendations, though. The best scientists (and arguably, thinkers generally) are mentored, not lectured to.
The sticker shock for the tuition (000) is admittedly pretty daunting, but the financial aid (both need and merit based) is considerably more generous than at any other Canadian degree granting institution. Before just assuming that the student body consists of trustafarians, you might want to actually get to know the students. They’re an amazing, creative, talented and diverse bunch, but don’t differ greatly in socio-economic profile from the student bodies at the Canadian publics. There is perhaps a greater proportion (about 25% U.S, 25% non-North American) of international students (many from developing countries, by the way). They were relatively few last year (about 70), but as Quest grows to its eventual 700 student enrollment, and as students become more involved with contributing to the community, I am guessing that Squamish will get to know them better in the coming few years. I’m hoping more than a few will get out on the crags — I wish I had as good access to rock climbing as when I went to college (McGill).