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Since December 2014, BC's adult educators have been warning the government that re-imposing tuition fees for Adult Basic Education programs-which had been tuition free since 2008-would have a negative effect on student enrolment. Today, BCTF President Jim Iker and FPSE President George Davison joined educators and students to advocate jointly for a restoration of funding for adult learners to ensure education remains accessible for everyone.

For thousands of adult learners who already have their high school diploma but need to complete prerequisites for career advancement or other academic courses, adult education programs are critical and the fact that they were tuition-free for the last six years made them that much more accessible. Now, students have to pay as much as $550 per course, or $1,600 per semester.

“Adult education is a building block. It opens doors to opportunities for better jobs and further education,” says George Davison, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. “Now, students who need these programs most are struggling to access them. For a government that says jobs are a priority to make it harder for adults to upgrade their education is incredibly short-sighted. When you don't get the basics right, you put everything at risk.”

In the spring, the provincial government cut adult education funding for public school districts by $9 million and shifted $6.9 million of base funding for post-secondary institutions into adult upgrading grants. The needs-based grants only add a layer of administration and uncertainty to students who can be easily discouraged from taking these upgrading programs in the first place.

This fall, students and instructors alike at Vancouver Community College face uncertain futures as those warnings about low enrolment numbers have been realized. While the government claimed that allowing institutions to charge tuition fees would make the programs more sustainable, the reality is that at VCC, adult education is in jeopardy. Students have been forced to drop out because they can no longer afford to attend, and as many as 43 adult education instructors have been given advance layoff notice.

“We've been sounding this alarm since the government first announced the reinstatement of tuition fees in December 2014,” says Karen Shortt, president of the Vancouver Community College Faculty Association. “The government knows there is a problem. Tuition fees are a barrier for adults who need basic education in order to get a job. Instructors face layoffs, students who need Math, Science, or English courses aren't attending school, and we will all feel the domino effect on career and university transfer programs, and ultimately, on our provincial economy.”

BCTF President Jim Iker said school boards that offered important adult education programs for graduated adults have already made cuts, pointing to the Surrey School District that eliminated all such courses.

 “These adult education cuts will take opportunities away from those who need it most-immigrants, Aboriginal members of our community, and those struggling to find good jobs to support their families,” said Iker. “The money cut by government was fairly small, but its impact is huge and will actually hurt the government's own commitments to creating good jobs. The government brought in a $200 million tax cut for BC's richest few this year, I think they can afford re-investing the funds cut from adults looking to upgrade their skills.”

Chris Murphy, president of the adult educators unit within the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association, said the end of tuition-free courses will lead to limited course offerings, instability, and cancelled classes.

“These cuts will negatively impact many pathways for students trying to further their education and get a better job,” said Murphy. “From someone trying to take Biology 12 so they can enter a care-aide program to someone who needs Math 12 to get into an IT course, accessible adult education can make all the difference for those looking to advance their career goals. By charging new fees, these courses will now be out of reach for many British Columbians.”

 

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For more information, contact:
Rich Overgaard, BCTF Media Relations officer, 604-871-1881
Leah Squance, FPSE Staff Representative, 604-873-8988


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