From the Conference: Workshop Review
Hurting Those Most in Need
Financial Barriers to Accessing Adult Basic Education in BC
“Overall, 71% of students in the [ABE] system live on an annual income below the poverty line, despite half being employed fulltime while taking classes … Accessible adult basic education is not, therefore, simply important to meeting BC's objective of a knowledge-based economy, and being the most literature jurisdiction in North America. Adult basic education has a strong social justice component, addressing social inequality and increasing economic stability for historically marginalized groups.
…In 2002, the BC government allowed post-secondary institutions to charge tuition fees for basic education courses to adult who have a certificate of high school graduation. These tuition fees are a significant barrier to accessing adult basic education for those seeking to upgrade their high school courses in order to qualify for employment or entry into post-secondary education…
In 2002, the BC government changed income assistance rules to disallow those on income assistance (with the exception of those with disabilities) from attending post-secondary education. This includes adult basic education. The change was made as part of the government's focus on reducing income assistance recipients by focusing on having them secure immediate employment. This strategy neglects the importance of meaningful training and skills development to the acquisition of sustained and adequate employment…
…The BC government does not provide dedicated funding for the delivery of adult basic education. As such, adult basic education programs have been affected by funding cuts in the nineties by the federal government and in the first few years of the current BC government's mandate … The burden of dealing with funding cuts was downloaded to individual post-secondary institutions … The result of provincial and federal funding cuts is a wide variance in the quality of and access to adult basic education throughout the province…
…BC is facing a major skills shortage as “baby boomers” retire and the economy transitions to a knowledge based economy … Government policies of restricting access for income assistance recipients and allowing high tuition fees to be charged for adult basic education directly contribute to this shortage…
The 2007 BC Budget and related documents indicate that 36% of adults in BC are illiterate. This includes functionality in a variety of areas, such as reading, writing, computer skills, and numeracy. Adult basic education impacts all of these areas…
30% of adult basic education students leave their studies before completing. Count-intuitively, some college administrators have stated that charging tuition fees provides an incentive to complete, arguing that many students will not take their classes seriously otherwise. In fact, many students do not complete because of the financial burden of taking courses…
Adult basic education has a profound effect on the individuals who need to access it. Overwhelmingly, adult basic education students credit their courses with developing their literacy, numeracy, and computer skills, as well as self-confidence and social skills. It is an important component of addressing socio-economic marginalization and building a skilled workforce.
To accomplish these effects, it must be accessible to all who need it, regardless of economic status. Recently, the BC government has begun to recognize this. Funding has increased to the Adult Basic Education Student Assistance Program (ABESAP) to provide grants to basic education students. However, this only serves to lessen the impact of high tuition fees. By eliminating these fees, ABESAP can be better utilized to address the cost of textbooks, transportation, and childcare that will continue to present a significant barrier to many adult basic education students.
The funding necessary to eliminate tuition fees for those who need adult basic education is only $4 million dollars, which is minimal in the context of BC's overall prosperity. However, allocating this funding would have a considerable impact on the many individuals who need support.
Similarly, providing adequate funding to sustain a comprehensive adult basic education system with the necessary support services, and eliminating income assistance policies that restrict access to education, is well within the fiscal capacity of the government.
For the complete report, see: http://www.cfs.bc.ca/mysql/Factsheet-ABE-2007.pdf.
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