NDP rule in favour of province-wide free Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning
Christine Beyleveldt // News Editor
Following a BC NDP ruling, Capilano University eliminated tuition on Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP), the School of Access and Academic Preparation, which went into effect at the start of the fall semester.
Tuition was introduced in January 2015 and students began paying up to $1,600 per term for courses. Enrolment has declined steadily since. George Davison, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC (FPSE) estimated that up to 35 per cent of students enrolled in education upgrading courses dropped out in under three years. “That $1,600 tuition a term was a huge amount compared to [costing] nothing in the past, and was really a barrier for students to get into post-secondary education,” he said.
According to the NDP, enrolment dropped from over 10,000 Full-Time Equivalents (FTE) during the 2013-14 academic year to under 6,700 in 2016-17. The same year that tuition was introduced, $6.9 million was transferred from post-secondary operational funds into Adult Upgrading Grants that covered tuition, books, UPasses and unsubsidized childcare for students with demonstrated financial need. In 2015-16, the Ministry of Advanced Education set aside $10.3 million for these grants. The problem with the grants, as Don Bentley, an instructor in college and university preparation, noted, was that the cut-off was too low to help a lot of students. Single-income earners were only eligible if they had an annual income of below $24,144.
The FPSE started Open the Doors, the largest public campaign they have ever run, to advocate for public post-secondary education. As they were getting started on the Open the Doors campaign, tuition was re-introduced, so they ran subsidiary ABE Matters and ESL Matters campaigns to highlight the importance of those programs. Davison noted that he thought the FPSE had run a great campaign since eliminating tuition on education upgrading programs became an election issue that both the NDP and Greens got behind.
The CFA participated in the Open the Doors campaign to push the provincial government to eliminate tuition on ABE and English Language Learning (ELL) courses. The fees students were paying only applied if they were taking these courses at the post-secondary level. However, students who did not finish high school or returned to the K-12 system to take the credits they needed were exempt from the fee.
Education Upgrading is an option for BC residents who haven’t completed high school, need to upgrade their high school education or are missing prerequisites for post-secondary courses. “Math would be the most common one,” said Bentley. High school math for instance, is split into three levels by the time students reach Grade 11: Apprenticeship and Workplace, Foundations and Pre-Calculus. “Some students graduated with Communications 12, they require English 12 to get into university. It depends on the program,” Bentley said.
When tuition was reintroduced, CapU’s ABE program saw a loss of approximately 25 per cent of its enrolment. Some institutions were hit harder than others, with Vancouver Community College perhaps bearing the brunt of the loss. Their ABE student base has declined 50 per cent since tuition was re-introduced. The issue that faces CapU now is capacity.
“The object there was to get the news out as soon as possible so that when students were looking to come back they’d know there’d be no more tuition for these programs,” said Davison. Enrolment numbers have already increased at CapU after nearly three years of seeing fewer students return to upgrade or complete their K-12 education, and the University isn’t equipped for an influx of students.
Although Bentley added that CapU hopes to expand the number of classes they can offer to accommodate more students in time for the spring semester, they’re currently waiting for funding from the ministry of education to support tuition-free education upgrading programs. “We know we’re going to be funded to be fee-free,” he said, “the question is at what level?”