On Our Radar – Non-Traditional Pathways

On Our Radar features HEQCO staff and guest bloggers offering their unique perspectives on trends, new ideas, and hot-button issues in higher education. The opinions are those of the authors.

Adult education is a growth industry in Canada. Individuals who leave high school before graduating and immigrants with foreign credentials are just some of the eager learners enrolling in universities and colleges across Canada through what are called “non-traditional pathways,” — a fancy term for not pursuing higher education directly after high school, or for immigrants pursuing it in a another country. As you well know by now, HEQCO is a hub for everything higher ed. To better understand the realities and implications of these pathways, then explain it to the government and of course you, its loyal and attentive audience, HEQCO has launched a series of projects to study non-traditional pathways programs (including the Transitional Year Program TYP at York, U of T and other universities across the GTA).

The TYP programs at York and U of T are examples of intensive, full-time, two-semester programs that cater to adults who were not able to finish high school because of financial or family issues, or other circumstances beyond their control.  Similarly, most colleges in Ontario deliver full-time adult upgrading programs, with funding provided by the province.  It’s a great way to help keen learners get a foot in the door again, or motivate people so they leave as keen learners. But some people are not prepared for a full-year intensive program; perhaps they are adults with children to look after, are afraid to re-enter formal education, don’t have the academic background or just don’t have time to take on full-time studies. Realizing that this pool of human capital was being somewhat overlooked, and more importantly in my opinion, their responsibilities to be inclusive and equitable, colleges and universities developed bridging programs that offer adult learners a chance to explore and experience higher education at a slower pace before jumping in with both feet.

Some bridging programs take it one step further, involving community partners as well as students. As a graduate student at Carleton, I have been working with fellow graduate students to pair its existing bridging program with the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre in Ottawa to create a course that specifically caters to low-income individuals who otherwise could not attend the university. Currently in the implementation planning stages, the program is divided into two components. The first half focuses on academic skills of reading and writing while also familiarizing students with the campus experience. The second half is devoted to practice, where students apply their skills in a creative community field project. Students are partnered with graduate students from Carleton University, who act as academic mentors (because we all need one!), helping the adult students become familiar with academic learning.

Course topics reflect the needs of the community. Using food security as an example, the professor (an experienced community practitioner and expert in the field) will teach, discuss and assign a paper on the theory behind food security and nutrition. The adult students will then design development projects for the Pinecrest-Queensway community, such as awareness programs on nutrition or workshops for single mothers on food financing. By year’s end, the students receive a credit that can be used to transition into a BA program at Carleton, while the graduate students receive a credit for the community development portion of their degree.

The Carleton program lets adult learners remain close to home and familial responsibilities for half the semester. It also helps them appreciate the practical value of higher education while creating lasting partnerships between the university and its neighbouring communities. For me, as a graduate student, it has provided much needed exposure to the realities of immigrant and low-income adults yearning to learn, and an opportunity to give back and be a part of this journey with diverse learners who enhance the Carleton community. When people make mistakes or fall behind in education because of the unyielding and at times unfair demands of life, do they not deserve a second chance? I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I’d be longing for it!

-Ebadur Rahman, Research Intern & MA Candidate in Public Administration

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