I write to express my concern about the recent decision by the Provincial Government to eliminate Adult Basic Education (ABE) at the College of the North Atlantic. It was certainly a Government decision because ABE is mandated as an essential piece of the provincial education continuum and has always been under the auspices of some department of Government with delivery by the College, community extension programs and private colleges as appropriate. The budget Document contained the well spun wording of “Transitioning the ABE Program out of the College of the North Atlantic and the ‘engagement’ of new training providers through a Request for Proposals process.” “With the goal of improving service to clients by achieving efficiencies in program delivery and making it more responsive to labour market conditions.” (For those who may have trouble reading politically spun prose, I offer this translation: “We are throwing you to the wolves and letting the private training providers pick your bones. Education by the lowest bidder.”)
With seventeen Campuses scattered around the province CNA is ideally suited to deliver these programs in the areas of the most population concentration. Through their day programming and their community outreach programs, they delivered these programs day and night for the past 49 years to thousands of learners. (Yes, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the College system in Newfoundland-Labrador!).
Let’s look at the issues around this decision and look at the people (Students), affected by the elimination of ABE programming at CNA .
According to Ms. Ann Marie Vaughan CNA’s President, The College has a funding reduction of $15 million from the government in the current fiscal year. If the college were free to adjust their tuition fees to compensate for some of this shortfall, perhaps some of the pain could be alleviated. However there has been a freeze on Tuition increases in one form or another since 1999 and the funding shortfall has been made up mainly from increases in the government operating grant. So the much-touted tuition freeze is a double edged sword. On the one hand it works in favour of students but on the other, it dramatically increases the cost to Government and increases the vulnerability of College operations to the vagaries of Provincial funding and political pressure, and also denies the College the ability to respond responsibly and flexibly to the changing nature of employment opportunities in the Province.
Students in Adult Basic Education come from many backgrounds. Firstly, ALL of these students are adults and ALL have had their high school education interrupted for some very significant reason during their high school years. It may have been family health reasons, family relocation reasons, conditions of poverty or insufficient family income, conditions of abuse or family breakup or even teen pregnancy. Some have a learning disability which prevented them from completing high school. Whatever the reason, these students did not complete high school and are at a marked disadvantage when it comes to obtaining and keeping a job that will provide for them and their families.
In my 25 years of experience as a College Campus Administrator, the students in the Adult Education Program were always my favorites because they, generally were the most highly motivated and appeared to have the most to gain by completing their high school equivalency program. They are the most courageous students since it takes quite a lot of courage to re-enter a school environment after being away for an extended period of time. They have to balance school, families and often, part-time jobs, to complete their education but a great number of them stick with the program and complete their studies. I have seen quite a few complete the entire three year high school program in ONE year and hundreds complete the three-year program in two years. They then went into other College programs and, in many cases, went on to Memorial University. And, while the completion rate is derided by the Minister and CNA President, as being less than 40% of the enrollment, that is 40% more than the number of that group that completed High School. That’s 40% of a group of approximately 900 CNA students who are now entering the workforce with a high school diploma or better. That’s approximately 360 people per year capable of contributing more significantly to the economy of our Province. I would argue that, in economic terms, a 40% return on investment is outstanding by any measure.
So how will the elimination of the ABE program at CNA affect current and future ABE Students? In many cases it is related to the cost of tuition. Some ABE students who are EI eligible or Workers Compensation clients are generally sponsored in their ABE program. Services Canada or Workers Compensation supports them by paying their tuition and living expenses while they attend training. This is true for CNA and for training obtained through Private Colleges. In College of the North Atlantic, their Tuition fee is $726 per semester, in a Private Training College the Tuition can be somewhere in the range of $3500 - $4000 per semester.
Students sponsored under Social Services do not pay tuition directly but their tuition at approximately $736 per semester is paid by the Provincial Government. Students who have the means to pay their own tuition do so at the same rate. For students that have absolutely no means of paying tuition, there is a limited number of “Voucher” (basically free) seats to give them the opportunity of getting their education.
With the elimination of ABE at CNA, perhaps 80% or more of current and future ABE students will not have the ability to attend Adult Basic Education programs. The reason for this is that ALL ABE programming will be done by Private Colleges or ad-hoc learning centres somehow funded by the Government. Private Colleges operate as for-profit businesses. They must recover their costs from student tuition. At present they only accept students who come to their doors with sufficient funding to pay the $3500 - $4000 or more per-semester tuition. The President of CNA has stated that students who do not complete their program in this academic year will be quote “Transitioned to other ABE providers who are yet to be identified.” How can they be “Transitioned” without the accompanying financial support is the big question. Being “Transitioned” is not like the Star Trek “Transported”. They will not be assured of placement and they certainly will not receive $3500 - $400 per semester for tuition. The only service transitioning provides is giving them a transcript of their marks and perhaps the semester or 2 semester study plan worked out by their CNA instructor.
Somehow the Provincial Government must continue to create the learning environment particularly suited to these ABE students. Perhaps the $90 million secret business investment fund directed to private colleges will be the means of doing this, and if it is, the money would be better spent at the College of the North Atlantic where classrooms, teachers, expertise, career-counselling, support materials, and trade/technology connections already exist.
Mac Moss M.Ed.
CNA Campus Administrator (Retired)