An Open Letter to the BC Minister of Advanced Education On behalf of colleagues from public post-secondary institutions throughout BC, we would like to add our voices to the outcry over the Ministry’s recent decision around funding reductions and tuition for Adult Basic Education. With respectful acknowledgement of the more recently announced transition funding, we remain resolute in our plea to keep ABE tuition free in BC. This letter represents the voice of British Columbia’s ABE instructors who come to work every day to help others better their lives, lay a foundation for further education, graduate high school, and improve employability and life management skills. Their students are missing components of their education, components which hold them back in life and work, components considered basic and to which they are rightfully entitled. ABE students, as a group, comprise some of the most vulnerable citizens in the country. They return to school, demonstrating great courage and tenacity, to break through barriers to success. Aside from giving individuals the opportunity to experience individual growth and success, supporting ABE learners benefits all of society. Although there are myriad reasons to maintain the well-established fundamental right of tuition-free ABE, we will focus on ten salient aspects:
- Section 5 of the College and Institute Act outlines provision of comprehensive adult basic education as a core object of a college. Removing tuition compensation funds and allowing institutions to charge up to $1600/term for tuition contradicts this mandate by undermining the capacity of colleges and institutions to keep adult basic education broadly accessible.
- As noted in the BC Skills for Jobs Blueprint, we need skilled workers to enhance our economy and replace an estimated 58,700 retiring workers by 2018. Many underemployed and undereducated British Columbian adults can fill this need if they have the basic skills to succeed in the training programs. Those with low skills need access to tuition-free upgrading to give them the basic skills for career programs and further training.
- Not addressing the skills gaps amongst our most vulnerable citizens is ultimately more costly than funding education up front. It is well-documented that low literacy and lack of opportunity leads to poorer health outcomes, higher involvement in illegal activities, generational cycles of poverty and low literacy, and lack of involvement in the economy and society. The Canadian Literacy and Learning Network’s 2012 Investing in Upskilling report identifies a 1496% return on investment for even a modest increase in literacy levels. ABE provides this upskilling opportunity.
- Aboriginal learners, women, single parents, Canadian citizens who come from a refugee or immigrant experience, individuals who have survived abuse, addictions, homelessness, the working poor – these are ABE students. These people cannot afford tuition fees, and the province cannot afford to ignore them. The “Call to Action” in the Ministry’s own Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework and Action Plan notes 54% of Aboriginal public high school students graduate as compared to 83% of non-Aboriginal students – an improvement over past decades. Access to tuition-free ABE enables the remaining non-graduated Aboriginal learners to achieve the basic right of high school graduation.
- Tuition fees impose an insurmountable barrier for almost all ABE students. Those of our students who do manage to find paid work usually live well below the living wage. Students struggle to go back to school even with tuition-free status; they have to quit work or cut back at minimum wage jobs, pay for childcare, transit, and supplies. They are back in school, generally, because they don’t make enough money! Rural students are doubly slammed as they often travel greater distances, have fewer options and services available – like transportation and education, experience greater isolation, and have seasonal, limited, or no work options. Tuition fees will cause massive drops in the number of citizens who engage with education in the province. Citizens already living in economic and social isolation, many in rural areas, will be further isolated and impoverished.
- The Adult Upgrading Grants are limited and difficult for students to access and qualify for. Administering this system is potentially less efficient than providing the funding directly to institutions. In addition, valuable instructor time will be used in helping students navigate grants as the application process itself is a barrier for those struggling with literacy.
- BC’s ABE system is exemplary, long-standing, and well integrated with stakeholders (partner organizations, school districts, and social change organizations) at all levels in the communities in every college region. ABE in BC has been under development since the 1960s and is now responsive, relevant, and highly effective. ABE courses and methodology are specific to the needs of adults, provincially articulated, and thoroughly researched. Imposing tuition will undermine a system that currently works, perhaps causing irreparable damage.
- Although tuition-free adult upgrading will be offered through school districts for those without a high school diploma, unlike colleges, school districts are not mandated to provide adult basic education. Some do not provide it at all, while others only provide independent study courses, which are unsuitable for many learners, especially those struggling with basic literacy and numeracy. Distance upgrading is not suitable for many adult learners, both because of its pedagogical limitations and because of the digital divide (lack of infrastructure) in many remote communities. This is a particular problem in Aboriginal communities, many of whom still do not have broadband internet access.
- Each institution has developed their program to uniquely address the needs of their local population. Rural institutions, for example, serve the composite needs of their region and population, and ABE is a vital component of outreach and education, particularly in serving marginalized and isolated populations. Undermining ABE potentially undermines the entire institution and, in turn, the entire region. Each institution could face a similar threat to their way of doing business if ABE delivery is diminished.
- Imposing tuition risks overturning the positive gain adult upgrading is achieving: creating a community of educated individuals who have tools to set future goals, realize achievements and get better paying jobs. Many ABE students have multiple barriers in life; keeping ABE barrier-free provides an opportunity for those students to explore learning in a safe, supportive environment and consequently engage meaningfully and productively in our society.
Basic education is a basic right. As the group poised to witness most closely the impact of imposing tuition for adult basic education, we are vehemently opposed. We ask that you engage with us in this discussion and that you reverse the decision to change the funding to ABE programs in the public post-secondary system. Sincerely on behalf of the ABE Articulation Representatives of BC, Allison Alder, Chair Adult Basic Education Articulation Steering Committee