B.C.'s adult education system underfunded, advocate says

While British Columbia's government is significantly re-investing into the K to 12 education system as a result of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, one advocate argues funding for adult education is falling further behind.

Hollie Williams, the president of the Vancouver Adult Educators Union, said adult students are still reeling from cuts the provincial government made in 2014.

The government ended adult education subsidies for all students who had completed high school which meant many course upgrades and English classes went from free to $550.

Williams says the cuts dropped enrolment by 20 per cent in 2015 and another 20 per cent in 2016.

"Many of our students are juggling two jobs. Often those are low paying jobs and, in fact, that's the reason they're trying to go back to post-secondary," she said.

"Suddenly when you're paying rent in this city and you go to register for a course and you realize it's $550, that's an obstacle that many people are not able to overcome."

Barriers for vulnerable learners

Williams says the new fees create barriers for many vulnerable populations who use adult education to upgrade their education: single mothers who are trying to return to work and school after caring for children or elderly parents, new immigrants trying to learn English and Indigenous learners.

She said the cuts have also affected students who haven't got a high school degree — whose tuition is still covered by the province — because they can no longer offer the same variety of courses.

"There are class minimums of 26, so basically we're very reluctant to offer a course unless we feel we can get 26 seats filled, otherwise the course is cancelled," she explained.

Some critics have asked why British Columbians should pay for students who have graduated high school, albeit poorly. Williams explained that many high school courses have expiry dates.

For example, she said, if someone decides after leaving high school to go into nursing, the requirement for nursing is Biology 12 and it must be completed in the last two years.

"I understand they've graduated, but to not give those people a second chance to go back to school is prohibitive in a province that's running a surplus," she said.

Grants available for adult learners: Ministry

In a statement, Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson said that enrolment in adult education programs was declining before changes to the tuition policy in 2014.

He also pointed out there are a number of provincial grants that support adult-upgrading students.

"Adult upgrading grants cover the entire cost of education for low-income students. The cost of tuition, textbooks, supplies, student fees, transportation and child care is completely covered by the province," he said.

"Grants for half the cost of tuition are available for students with an income of 10 per cent above the threshold."

The income threshold for grants for a single person is $24,144, he said, while the income threshold for a student with two dependants is $36,955.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled B.C.'s adult education learners left behind from underfunding, advocate says