Thousands of British Columbians who have graduated from high school but want to upgrade their skills by taking Grade 10-12 courses that have been offered free of charge for five years will soon have fewer choices — unless they’re willing to pay tuition or study online.
The Education Ministry is halving the number of adult-education courses that are eligible for government funding, saying exceptionally high dropout rates in some classes suggest money is being wasted.
The program cost $15 million this year, up from $1.5 million in 2007-08, the year tuition fees were lifted to help B.C. residents wanting to advance their education.
The decision means school districts, which offer the courses to graduated adults and receive per-pupil grants from government, must either cancel dozens of courses or re-introduce fees. Districts have begun spreading the word to students and that has many fuming.
“For $50 I will be able to do it, but $400? No, and not for any of my friends,” said Louma Ayoub, 46, a Syrian-born mother of three who is taking Digital Media Development 11 at the Roberts Education Centre in Vancouver’s West End. Ayoub is studying website design and social media at Roberts while she completes an interior design certificate at Vancouver Community College.
“I can’t pay for both of them, I pay there but I still have the support here.”
Ayoub’s media instructor Ken Buis said that when he asked his class of 30 students who would be able to afford the $425 fee that is being discussed for the course, no one put up a hand.
“They’re coming here to re-educate themselves so they can get a job,” Buis said. “They can’t afford $425; they can hardly afford their rent.”
Dominik Lichy, 25, was also upset to hear that he’ll have to pay to enrol in Physics 12 next term. He’s been retaking high school courses at the Main Street Education Centre in order to study architecture and building engineering at the B.C. Institute of Technology. Slapping a fee on students’ efforts to improve their education is ridiculous, he said.
Enrolment in these adult-education courses has increased tenfold since 2007, but the ministry says too many people have been signing up for classes and then dropping out after a couple of months. In some cases, completion rates were as low as 35 per cent. This year, total enrolment in these courses was the equivalent of 3,386 full-time students, up from 368 in 2007-08. Since many students take only one or two courses, the number of people affected would be much higher.
Starting this summer, the ministry will pay for several dozen adult-education courses in English, math, social studies and science (including Chemistry 11, Physics 11 and Biology 12). But it will no longer fund others, including Grade 12 courses in physics, calculus, financial accounting, law, social justice, comparative civilizations, marketing, tourism and geography.
The ministry says it is still funding the most popular classes and its pared-down list served 60 per cent of last year’s total enrolments.
Free adult education courses for those who have not yet graduated from high school are not affected by this decision.
The government is also altering the way it distributes money for graduated adult courses. Instead of giving school districts the full amount up front, it will hold back 25 per cent until the students have completed the courses. Next year, that holdback will increase to 50 per cent.
That will serve as an incentive to districts to ensure classes are interesting and can hold students’ attention, a ministry spokesman said.
At the same time, more courses will be offered for free online through Open School B.C. By fall, British Columbians will be able to take French 10, English 10, Math 10, English 11, Biology 11, Chemistry 12, Physics 12, Communications 12, B.C. First Nations Studies 12 and Intro Spanish 11, the ministry said. More online courses are expected to be added the following year.
Lichy said he would consider taking Physics 12 online.
Deputy education minister James Gorman said school districts were consulted before they were informed of the revisions in a letter last week. Spokesmen for the two largest districts — Surrey and Vancouver — said staff are weighing the full impact of the decision.
“We expect we’ll see a decrease in enrolment,” Vancouver communications manager Kurt Heinrich said.
Vancouver will continue offering the same courses, but for a fee to be determined through consultations with other districts, he added.
Meanwhile, enrolments in high-school courses for adults who have not yet graduated from Grade 12 have declined from five years ago. Those free classes had the equivalent of 6,779 full-time students this year — down from 8,346 five years ago — and cost the ministry about $30 million.