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Tuition Saves a Third of Vancouver Community College's ESL Seats

But $1,600 a semester is too high, says faculty association president.

Katie Hyslop 19 Dec 2014TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

Vancouver Community College has saved some of its English as a Second Language courses by opting to charge students $1,600 for a full semester.

The college is one of 17 institutions in B.C. who lost federal and provincial funding for ESL programs this past year, after the expiration of the Canada-British Columbia Immigration Agreement in April and the end of the provincial transition funding that followed.

Earlier this month, the province announced it would let public education institutions like Vancouver Community College charge tuition to students with high school diplomas for high school upgrading courses including ESL. Rates could be up to $1,600 a semester for a full-time student or $320 per course for a part-timer.

Non-refundable up-front grants will be available for low-income students to cover tuition, books, and related costs.

Previously, the college was facing the closure of four out of five ESL departments after Dec. 17. Starting Jan. 15, the college will offer three ESL programs: Pathways, College Preparatory English, and the federally-funded Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada, a basic-level ESL course that is tuition-free but open to permanent residents only.

The tuition announcement means students wanting to upgrade their English to pursue higher education, receive recognition for foreign credentials, or find a job in their field in Canada will have ESL courses available to them at the college.

It isn't all good news. The college will no longer offer basic-level ESL to Canadian citizens, and only 30 per cent of the college's current 2,200 ESL seats will be available. In addition, layoff notices for 65 ESL faculty went out this week, although 31 of those staff members were temporarily recalled to teach next semester.

The Pathways program, offering intermediate to advanced ESL including Grade 12 and professional-level English, will replace the college's Professional and Career English program that included English for specific careers like accounting and engineering.

It's part of the college's new direction of attaching ESL to other programs: "We have an Asian culinary program and that has ESL support, and that's really the model that we're going for [in] many of these professional programs now," college president Peter Nunoda said last week.

Tuition isn't enough to cover the cost of delivering ESL programs, however. The college will have to make cuts in other areas to cover operational costs, but Nunoda promises no other programs will be impacted.

Feels like robbery, says student

Two courses in the Pathways program equal a full semester at the college, while three courses in the College Preparatory English program is considered full-time.

Gary Weng, a Vancouver Community College student who was one semester away from completing the Professional and Career English program when it ended this week, plans to enrol in two Pathways program courses in January. Because it only takes two courses to reach full-time hours in Pathways, he'll be charged $1,600 for the semester.

A Taiwanese immigrant who came to Canada in 2010, Weng worked in marketing in Taiwan and wants to re-enter the industry in his new country, but needs to improve his English first. He can afford the tuition, but barely, and said it's too expensive.

"I feel like [I'm] being robbed," said Weng, adding he's worried about students with less money.

"For other newcomers... some of them their financial situation isn't very good. If the B.C. government would like to charge them, that would be a problem for [the student]."

The low-income cut-off for a non-refundable grant for a single student with no dependents is $23,647 a year. Students who earn up to 10 per cent more are eligible for grants covering half their tuition. But in an interview last week, the college's faculty association president Karen Shortt said the cut-off rates are too low for a city as expensive as Vancouver.

"To come up with $1,600 per semester when you're trying to live on $26,000 or $27,000 [annually] is very difficult," she said.  [Tyee]

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