Teachers at Vancouver Community College finally got some positive news this week after all but seven of the 39 layoff notices issued to adult education instructors in August were rescinded.
"It's really good news," said Karen Shortt, president of the Vancouver Community College Faculty Association, adding that enrolment has already started picking up for the winter semester, which could save the seven positions still on the chopping block for the end of the fall semester.
The instructors work at the School of Access, which offers adult basic education, English as a Second Language, and college and university upgrading programs. When the layoff notices were first issued, enrolment for the fall semester was down 30 per cent from the previous year's roughly 1,400 registered students. Current enrolment numbers were not immediately available.
So far no sessional instructors -- non-regular faculty hired to teach classes on a semester-by-semester basis -- have been hired back to the School of Access this semester, though Shortt said that if enrolment continues to climb they, too, will be reinstated.
The college is the largest provider of adult basic education, college and university transfer courses in B.C. The courses cater to students who either haven't graduated from high school or who need to upgrade their credits in order to gain acceptance into post-secondary.
Both college administration and the teachers' union attributed the initial enrolment decline to the B.C. government's introduction of tuition fees for adult basic education and college and university prep courses on Jan. 1, 2015.
Since the possible layoffs were announced, however, Shortt said school officials worked hard to reach out to former and potential future students to tell them about the government's Adult Upgrading Grant for low-income students, which can cover all or a portion of tuition, textbooks, supplies, transportation and child care, depending on income.
An Oct. 28 press release from the college said that 1,200 School of Access students had been approved for the government grant to date, though it's not clear if the number related to the fall semester only or included spring and summer students.
Slow introduction of tuition
"Adult upgrading courses are an important step for those seeking to improve their lives or make a career change," said Kathryn McNaughton, vice president academic, students, and applied research, in the release.
She said that School of Access students come from "all walks of life," including people who didn't graduate, recently graduated, or who are looking to start over in their career.
Adult basic education courses for Grades 10 to 12 were free under the province's Education Guarantee from 2008 to 2012. The B.C. government gradually began introducing tuition in 2012, initially for non-academic courses, and eventually for all public adult basic education and English as a Second Language courses.
Today, the only adult ed courses without tuition are for students without a high school diploma upgrading through a public school board.
To be eligible for the government grant, a single person must make no more than $23,647 a year, although students with incomes up to 10 per cent higher can receive a grant for half their tuition costs. The college also offers its own grant to top up tuition costs for students who make more than the income cut-off, but it doesn't cover additional expenses.
Shortt said that's too low for a city as expensive as Vancouver, and believes the cut-off should be $40,000, although she said even that would be tight: "We know how hard it is to live in this city and make ends meet, and we make more than that."
She's also concerned that the $620,000 in transitional funds the college received from the province to help in the transition to tuition and grants will run out by the end of the winter semester. Without it, it's unclear how the college will continue providing its own grants.
School officials met with government representatives last week to discuss possible changes to the government grants, though no decisions have been made.
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