A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the high cost of upgrading high school courses. I wrote to the Minister of Education to ask that he consider removing the barriers to educational access that his government put in place in May 2015. I received a disappointing response which failed to address the key concerns of the letter.
I subsequently wrote to the Minister of Advanced Education urging him to close a gap in coverage that the policy change had created. When government chose to end funding for high school graduates upgrading secondary courses, they forced secondary schools to charge tuition to high school graduates. This included public schools, like SIDES or The Link, which offer online classes and are well suited for academic upgrading.
Along with the policy change government introduced the Adult Upgrading Grant, which is administered by the Ministry of Advanced Education and is meant to provide some support for low-income students. However, this grant only covers courses taken at post-secondary institutions and does not include any of the secondary schools which now have to charge tuition to high school graduates. I asked the minister to extend the grant to a more diverse group of schools, in particular to secondary schools which focus on distributed learning and currently have high rates of enrollment for students upgrading courses.
A non trivial component of the government’s surplus has come at the expense of those who can least afford it. Cuts to those seeking to upgrade their high school education to pursue work and educational opportunities do nothing more than perpetuate the poverty trap. British Colombians deserve a government which will make education more accessible for all British Colombians.
Below I reproduce the text of my letter and I will share the response when it is forthcoming.
February 12, 2017
Honourable Andrew Wilkinson
Minister of Advanced Education
PO Box 9080 Stn Prov Govt
Dear Minister Wilkinson,
I’m writing to you in light of concerns that constituents have brought to my attention regarding the high cost of upgrading high school courses.
As you know, in 2015, the provincial government ended funding for students upgrading high school courses, if they have already graduated. Since that policy change, returning students now face a fee, generally $500-$550 per course, to take grade 11/12 course. These fees place an undue burden on individuals, and their families, as they work to expand their professional and academic opportunities.
I have learned that at the South Island Distance Education School (SIDES) in Victoria alone, there are hundreds of students who are unable to afford the fees of upgrading their courses, and thus remain on the waitlist. This does not include the many who don’t even apply to join the waitlist, discouraged from doing so when they learn the cost.
I have written the Minister of Education about my concerns with this policy and am now writing you to outline a specific gap that it has created.
The Ministry of Education still funds high school courses for students who have not graduated. The Ministry of Advanced Education provides support for low-income students who have graduated and are taking high school level courses at one of nineteen post-secondary institutions.
There is, however, no support for students who have graduated high school and are pursuing academic upgrading through institutions other than post-secondary schools. For example, high school graduates attending public schools in Victoria, like SIDES or the Link, are not eligible for tax deductions, reimbursement under RESPs, or the Adult Upgrading Grant.
These two schools specialize in providing a flexible academic environment to accommodate the needs of students. With many returning students are juggling career and family obligations, this an ideal environment for them to return. Attending a school focused on secondary education can also be less jarring return to the education system for many students.
I find it difficult to understand why two students of similar income levels could take equivalent courses that have comparable prices and that only one would receive government support.
As your ministry oversees the Adult Upgrading Grants, I ask that you increase the number of institutions which are approved to administer them. Specifically, I ask that you give public schools that have a focus on distributed learning the ability to authorize these grants.
If you feel that this falls outside the purview of your ministry, then I urge you to coordinate with the Minister of Education and develop a funding program which would achieve the same results.
I fully believe that we should all fund students who pursue academic upgrading, whether or not they’ve graduated. British Columbians have been promised a high school education, and there is more to that than just a diploma. Whether or not someone has graduated, they should be supported as they flesh out their secondary education, seeking to open their mind or opportunities.
At the very least, this government should, fill the gap that has been created by its policy change and provide the Adult Upgrading Grant to a more diverse group of institutions, including specialized secondary schools.
MLA, Oak Bay-Gordon Head
March 15, 2017