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Post-secondary Education Becoming a "Requirement" in B.C.

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Province's high-school-to-post-secondary transition rate is more than 80 percent

VANCOUVER -- Ben Tyner and Corina David are getting ready for classes next month at two of B.C.'s newest universities. Tyner is studying philosophy at Capilano University's Sunshine Coast campus, while David will take criminology courses at the University of Vancouver Island campus in Nanaimo.

Like most British Columbians, they know a high-school diploma just doesn't cut it any more - and they're benefitting from a government decision in 2008 to create five new regional universities that allow students like them to live at home while going to school.

"Had I gone to another university, it would have taken me two or three more years to start, just to be able to afford to do it," said Tyner, who will be returning to Cap U for his second year of studies.

Their return to school after time in the workforce is part of a trend that has pushed B.C.'s high-school-to-post-secondary transition rate above 80 percent, among the highest in the country.

More than half of Grade 12 graduates enrol in post-secondary institutions almost immediately after completing high school, with a further 30 per cent signing up during the following six years, according to recent studies. At last count, in the fall of 2009, those figures were edging upwards.

Advanced Education Minister Moira Stilwell is encouraged by the trend, saying students "are getting the idea very clearly that a post-secondary education is a requirement for them to meet their own personal potential and participate fully in life in British Columbia."

Post-secondary training will be required for 70 per cent of the one million jobs expected to become available within 10 to 15 years as baby boomers retire, Stilwell said.

Traditionally, B.C. students have favoured public universities, colleges and institutions within the province and there's no indication that interest is flagging. This year, those schools report continued strong enrolments, with many saying they reached their 2010-11 targets earlier than expected.

The larger, established schools - the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and the University of Northern B.C. - had faced some uncertainty, given the government's decision in 2008 to give full university status to five colleges.

But Nancy Johnston, SFU's executive director of student affairs, said the expansion hasn't hurt her school.

"Even in this highly competitive environment, we've done very well," she said. "We're ahead of our own projections."

One-third of B.C. students who graduate from Grade 12 are eligible for university, and the percentage of those enrolling in bachelor-degree programs within a year of graduation has risen steadily over the past decade, to 55 per cent in fall 2009 from 44 per cent in 2002, according to research by the government-funded Student Transitions Project.

It has reached the point where BAs "have almost become the high-school diploma of the '70s and '80s," Johnston remarked.

At the same time, the number of B.C. students entering post-secondary schools immediately but seeking other credentials - such as diplomas, certificates and apprenticeships - has been falling, to 45 per cent last year from 56 per cent in 2002.

Those who want a BA still favour the research-intensive universities, with only 20 per cent choosing the smaller, so-called "teaching-intensive" universities, which include the five newcomers (the University of the Fraser Valley, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Vancouver Island University, Capilano University and Emily Carr University of Art and Design).

"With the increased number of institutions offering bachelor's degrees, we would expect to see a simultaneous increase in the proportion of immediate-entry bachelor's degree seekers enrolling directly at institutions other than research-intensive universities, but this has not yet occurred," says a recent report by the Student Transitions Project, which was established by the government in 2005 to collect and analyse data on B.C. public education.

But STP chairman Devron Gaber cautioned that it's too early to reach conclusions about the impact of the new universities, since many were still adjusting their image and changing their offerings in 2009.

Female students continue to be more likely than male students to go directly into post-secondary education after high school. The immediate-transition rates are also higher than average for English-as-a-second-language and French immersion students, and for those who graduate at age 17 rather than 18 or 19, according to STP research.

Chinese and Punjabi students are more likely than their peers to enrol directly in post-secondary schools, with immediate-transition rates of 75.7 and 81.8 per cent, compared with 52.2 per cent for all students in 2008-09. Their participation rates in the years after high school continue to be above average.

Johnston wasn't surprised by those figures, saying the interest of Punjabi and Chinese students in higher education is obvious at SFU.

"We have a campus in Surrey and have many connections and good relationships with the Indo-Canadian communities. And if you walk up to our Burnaby Mountain campus, it's just like walking through Metrotown."

The students most likely to leave B.C. for advanced education are those who graduated with exceptionally high marks and those who completed French immersion - with many in the latter group going to Quebec.

For some students, leaving B.C. or even their hometowns isn't an option. That's one of the reasons cited by the province in granting university status to five colleges in 2008.

Corina David said she didn't really care what name was on the school when she decided to take criminology at Vancouver Island University, the former Malaspina University College. Her only concern was getting the courses she wanted at a nearby location so she wouldn't have to move her four children, ages 16, nine, five and four.

"I didn't even look anywhere else," she said.

Nicole Etherington chose Capilano University and attended the Squamish campus so she could reside at home. She also didn't think much about the name change.

"It was the program I was looking for," she said. "I didn't care one way or the other [about the name]."

But appealing to students wasn't the only reason for the name change.

Shelley Kean, Cap U's manager of public affairs, said the biggest benefit for the new universities is the ability to attract more donors, more highly qualified staff and more international students.

"Financially, we are heading for tough times," she said in an e-mail, adding it takes about two years for a recession to reach the education sector. More donors and more fee-paying international students would help the bottom line.

Ben Tyner, who is living at home in Sechelt while attending a nearby Capilano University campus, suggested many young students enrol in university because they don't know what else to do and they're under pressure to choose a career.

"A good section of the [university] student population doesn't have any idea what they're doing. They go straight from high school to university because they don't know what else to do."

Taking time off between high school and post-secondary can give students work experience and a broader perspective, he added.

STP research indicates almost one-quarter of students enrolled in post-secondary schools between 2006 and 2008 switched broad program areas and a smaller percentage changed institutions. Overall, the big winner was the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT) which attracted 14 per cent of all movers.

Pat Matthieu, the institute's director of enrolment planning, said students who enrol in BCIT have already selected a career and are looking for relevant training. "BCIT grads are job-ready," she said. "We are really focused on jobs."

By Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun August 27, 2010
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Photograph of student Ben Tyner at the Capilano University Sunshine Coast campus by: Duane Burnett

© Copyright The Vancouver Sun

Last modified on Friday, 30 December 2011 19:12
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