Adult Basic Education (ABE) students are already marginalized, says the Selkirk College Students’ Union, so closing the door on B.C.’s tuition-free mandate only furthers the social divide.
“Don’t Close the Doors” is a province-wide student union campaign that asks municipal councils and community partners to endorse their objective to restore ABE funding. This week, Selkirk Local 2 made a visit to Trail and requested city officials join a growing list of municipalities, such as Nanaimo, New Westminister, and Nelson, in a show support for the BCFS (B.C. Federation of Students, an alliance of 14 university and college students’ union) petition to the province.
Santanna Hernandez presented her own compelling story to Trail council, giving insight into the life-changing opportunity free ABE course upgrades can provide.
Three types of students enrol in the ABE program, those who want to complete high school, students who need to upgrade high school courses, and others seeking to improve basic literacy and numeracy. Students with development disabilities and ESL (English as a second language) courses also fall under the ABE realm.
“As you can imagine ABE is the first step to improving ones earning potential or completing some of those post secondary prerequisites to further on in science programs like nursing or engineering,” said Hernandez.
No matter the reason, ABE students are 58 per cent women, 20 per cent have at least one child, and 18 per cent are Indigenous people, she continued.
“I am all three,” Hernandez shared. “This is important because myself, I am an ABE alumnus here in Trail. I was every single one of these three categories, and I am like the 70 per cent of students that continue their studies after ABE,” she added. “I continued my academic career and am now currently enrolled in the pre-med program at Selkirk College and I will be applying for medical school this fall.
“ABE was my first step, and it was done here in Trail.”
In December 2014, the province abruptly cut $6.9 million from the program funding. In a news release from the Ministry of Education, the province stated a number of changes to prioritize the K-12 sector led to an over haul of public post secondary educational opportunities. So on Jan. 1, colleges and other respective institutions were advised to charge tuition fees for all adult upgrading courses, including ABE and ESL programs.
By May that year, anyone with a high school diploma who was seeking upgrades, had no choice but to pay for his/her courses.
Instead of free tuition, ABE students were offered grants. However, the process of applying for a grant does present challenges for many of those students, says Hernandez.
Additionally, she noted how Selkirk College created its own “SAUB” or Supplementary Academic Upgrading Bursary, to cover tuition, fees and text books. The problem is that without funding, the bursary program is not sustainable long-term.
“These changes have created massive barriers for people who need these upgrading courses to further themselves,” she said. “And it is especially timely for the ‘Don’t Close the Doors’ campaign locally, because at the end of this month, the board of governors at Selkirk College will be deciding whether or not SAUB is sustainable anymore.”
Hernandez also sits on the Education Council and has witnessed the fallout of funding cuts.
“I have watched people sit and have to make these decisions that they do not want to make,” she said. “ … with the SAUB bursary we’ve been able to maintain our numbers (ABE enrolment) but when talking to other locals in B.C. they’ve seen a drop of up to 51 per cent because they don’t have the grant that Selkirk College has offered.”
Locally, there are over 500 students taking basic adult courses at Selkirk College campuses, including about 50 who are enrolled in adult special education classes.
“The other great thing about partnering with Trail city council is that the Selkirk College campus is downtown and Trail has been working so hard to revitalize the downtown,” Hernandez pointed out. “I know as a student there was a lot of campus traffic, we would go out to coffee shops, for lunch and to use the library.
“So to keep that traffic flowing, we have to keep the ABE enrollment coming in.”
Hernandez was asked to provide the proposed wording for the endorsement the union is seeking <span class="n_ 855 v21" style="color: #000000; font-family: Georgia, Times, serif, "Lucida Grande", Tahoma, Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 16