Access programs aim to reduce barriers to postsecondary education
Improving access to and success in postsecondary education is an on-going concern for Ontario’s colleges and universities, particularly for those students who may be struggling to meet admission requirements and/or are among groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education — including students from lower-income families, families with no history of postsecondary participation, and students who have a disability or are Aboriginal.
The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario commissioned two research studies to explore and evaluate access and retention programs involving three Ontario postsecondary institutions. Although different in scope and design, the programs share a commitment to reducing barriers to higher education and giving at-risk students a first, or in some cases second, chance at success. The studies are part of a series on student services commissioned by HEQCO.
Alternative Pathways to University Admission: An Examination of Academic Advising within the Niagara College/Brock University “Partners Program” assesses a collaboration between the two institutions that focuses on “conditionally acceptable” students – applicants to Brock who did not receive direct admission from high school but had entering grades that were near the admissions cut off and were recommended to enrol in the one-year General Arts and Science – University Transfer program at Niagara. Upon successful completion of their first year in the Partners Program at Niagara, which includes a substantial advising component, students enrolled could transfer to Brock with one or two transfer credits if their GPA met the criterion.
Access, Engagement, Retention and Success of Underrepresented Populations at Ryerson University analyzes three intervention programs – Bridges to Ryerson, which targets under-represented groups who might not normally find their way to university; the Tri-Mentoring Program, which supports Ryerson’s first-generation students, culturally and linguistically diverse students and students from low-income families; and Road to Ryerson, which focuses on high school students who (similar to the Brock/Niagara Partners Program) just missed acceptance because they were lacking prerequisite courses and/or their grades fell just below the admission cut off.
All of the programs involved establishing direct, often one-to-one relationships with the students. The Niagara/Brock program offers joint institutional academic advisors, as well as group and individual advising sessions to assist in goal setting, self-esteem, communications and career exploration. In Bridges to Ryerson, students are enrolled part-time and receive targeted academic and non-academic support and financial aid as needed. With successful completion of the program they are guaranteed admission to Ryerson. Based on a peer-support model, the Tri-Mentoring Program engages students as mentors or mentees at virtually all stages of their university career, from university orientation to career planning. Almost 2,000 students participate in the program.
While in some cases anecdotal in nature and subject to limited sample sizes, findings suggest that at-risk students benefit from sustained and focused relationships with individuals more so than group settings. The programs appear to have a stronger impact on persistence in PSE than on improved grades, and they seem to play an important role in motivating students while overcoming potential isolation and social exclusion. Perhaps most telling are the personal stories shared by Ryerson students enrolled in the Bridges to Ryerson program, providing a window on the challenging personal circumstances of students that remain underrepresented in higher education. Among them: being marginalized at school as immigrants or visible minorities and subject to ridicule or isolation; victims of family dysfunction, poverty or abuse at home; interruptions in education wrought by moving, dislocation and changing schools; and lack of guidance and structure for education, resulting in poor planning, time management and study skills, and negative attitudes about education.
Authors of Alternative Pathways to University Admission: An Examination of Academic Advising within the Niagara College/Brock University “Partners Program” are Sybil Wilson, Kareen McCaughan and Stella Han. Authors of Access, Engagement, Retention and Success of Under-represented Populations at Ryerson University are Heather Lane Vetere, Rona Abramovitch, Sabrina Malik and Jian Guan.