ABE tuition policy produces first possible program casualties

If proposed cuts to Adult Education tabled on March 31 by the Vancouver Board of Education go through, youth and adults  in the poorest communities in Vancouver will have less access to education to complete secondary school and/or upgrade their qualifications for further education and training. On March 31, 2015, the Vancouver Board of Education tabled its budget proposals for the 2015/2016 year, containing and changes cuts to make up a budget shortfall of 8.52 million. These include closing 28 classrooms across the district to save in cleaning and maintenance costs, reducing bands and strings teacher FTE and raising band fees, and yes, significant cuts to Adult Education programs.

The proposal notes that “Adult Education is optional programming that is offered outside of the K‐12 core mandate” (p. 32) The VBE notes significant decline in enrolment in Adult Education since changes to the Education Guarantee were implemented by the BC Government in 2010-11, and it estimates the recent ABE tuition policy announced in 2014 are expected to or have lead to further 17% decline in enrolment in 2014/2015 and a projected 20% decline in 2015/2016.

Two centres and two outreach centres that serve youth and adults in Vancouver are slated to close, and another east-side centre will only offer self-paced courses, resulting in the loss of 24 full-time instructor and assistant instructor positions. These centres serve the educational needs of Aboriginal people in the city and will have a disproportionate affect on low income, Aboriginal people and at-risk youth aged 19 – 24. Here are the proposed changes:

Only Offer Self‐Paced Courses at Gathering Place
Close Hastings and Downtown Eastside Centres
Discontinue Kiwassa and Collingwood Youth Programs
Discontinue Elementary Literacy Outreach Programs

The argument is that these centres and programs are operating under-capacity, and youth literacy programs can be incorporated into the remaining learning centres (Gladstone, South Hill and Main Street). But interestingly, before changes to the Education Guarantee were introduced in 2011-2012, ABE enrolment in Vancouver and across the province was its highest in history.

This suggests the need for ABE, but the sensitivity of this student population to tuition costs, location and other access issues. Another proposed change: Minimum enrolment in adult basic education courses in the remaining centres will increase to 26. In other words, classes will be cancelled if there are not 26 students enrolled in the class (and there is funding tied to the level of enrolment and completions at various points during the term).

As those who teach adults will know, time and place is everything when working education into a busy adult life. With fewer programs offered around the city (and slow and expensive transit required to get there), as well as minimum enrolment caps that will be hard to achieve, it is likely that more classes will be cancelled, more youth and adults will be unable to get the courses they need to complete or upgrade their education, and access ABE will decline further. These cuts accompany proposed increases of 50 full time students and 2 full time staff positions in the International Education (IE) program, continuing a 47% increase in IE student enrolment in the district since 2011/2012.

When the Ministries of Advanced Education and Education introduced the tuition fee policy of ABE in December 2014, they argued that the new tuition fee policy would not have significant effect on adult learners because they could take courses in school districts. This seems to have backfired; the cuts are leading to decreased enrolment in ABE, which makes ABE programs more vulnerable to elimination. Discussions about these proposals:

  • April 13, 2015 at 5:30 pm at the Education Centre – to obtain input from VBE stakeholders; and
  • April 14, 2015 at 7:00 pm at Mount Pleasant Elementary and further, on April 15, 2015 at 7:00 pm at the Education Centre (if required) – to obtain input from the general public.
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