Students struggle to access post-secondary programs due to adult education cuts
Plunging Adult Education enrolment calls for a reversal of government funding cuts.
That may be a signal of more cuts, consolidations or closures to come for the VSB’s Adult Education Centres.
It's already closed several over the past few years: the Lord Roberts Adult Education Centre, the Downtown East-Side Adult Education Centre, the Hastings Adult Education Centre (which was located at Britannia Secondary) and its South Hill Youth Programs. It’s now down to three centres — South Hill, Main Street at Gladstone Secondary and the Gathering Place, which now only offers self-paced programs.
Fewer sites and courses make it harder for adult students to access classes, as many rely on transit and have family and work responsibilities to juggle. It also means less flexible scheduling, which means even funded students may find it harder to get the courses they need.
In the spring of 2015 I spoke at a rally at the Croation Cultural Centre that was organized by a coalition of adult education supporters. Hundreds of people attended and many spoke about how funding cuts would affect them.
I was struck by how many of the speakers were women and new Canadians, and how many talked about how family responsibilities — caring for ill parents or young children ‘— had interrupted their education.
They talked about their dreams of becoming doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers and more. They knew they could access student loans and grants once they got to post-secondary, but they had no way to pay the $550 course fees the VSB now charges students who are no longer eligible for government funding.
It was both heartbreaking and infuriating to hear their stories. These were people who wanted to put in the work to improve their futures for themselves and their families — which we know also benefits society as a whole. They wanted to give back through bettering themselves, yet that opportunity was now out of their financial reach.
This strikes me as cruel and shortsighted. While fees may be overwhelming for a single parent working a minimum wage job and trying to survive in an expensive city, it’s a relatively small investment for government to make.
Once these students complete their post-secondary programs they will be able to get better jobs and pay more taxes. They and their families are likely to be healthier and their children are statistically more likely to be successful in school. In short, investing in adult education is fiscally smart and brings excellent long-term returns. The VSB has no shortage of inspiring success stories from its adult education students.
Funding for Adult Education and all students who need access to it should be part of any political party’s plan for building a strong B.C. economy. Let’s hope the pressure of a provincial election this May leads to restored funding for all adult students.
Note: Adult Education courses are offered by B.C.’s school districts and community colleges. Both have been affected by funding cuts.