Reducing Barriers to Enrolment in Higher Education: Part One

One of my goals with this blog is to de-mystify the role of the Registrar, and to offer an introduction to what Registrars do. Most Registrars are involved or at least connected with recruiting and admitting students to college or university. In my own university, Trinity Western University, I am responsible for Admission Policies, and I chair a committee that addresses recruitment, admission, retention and general “enrolment management” issues.

This blog post is the first of a short series in which I look at how to reduce barriers to enrolment in post-secondary education. This particular post looks at the big picture, national issues which sometimes can sometimes feel a bit distant to those of us in the midst of our own institutions. But these somewhat “distant” issues are important because of how they affect individual students and the particular solutions that you and I are looking for to address the local situations you and I face in our specific schools.

That’s a five dollar way of saying let’s back up and look at the big picture first.

The Really Big Picture

In Canada, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology produced a report in 2011 called Opening the Door: Reducing Barriers to Post-Secondary Education in Canada. You can read all 130 pages if you click on the link above, but in summary the report is a meta-view of issues facing Canadians that make it more difficult to attend university or college. The report covers issues such as getting a high school diploma, high school experience and grades, family environment, first generation students, and motivation to attend post-secondary education. It also covers financial barriers such as tuition fees, financial aid, low-income families, and the cost of extra expenses. It then moves to discussing under-represented groups, such as francophones, immigrants, older students, and aboriginal communities, etc. The report then takes a turn from focusing on people to focusing on tools, institutions, and the system in general, discussing student loans and grants, tax measures, savings incentives, research investment, and the role of the federal government.

Some meta-solutions to these issues have included creating “open universities”, such as the one proposed by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, or the British Columbia Open University at Thompson Rivers University. The idea of an open university is to increase access to university by making courses available online, reducing many of the typical admissions requirements, reducing costs, and offering the ultimate in schedule flexibility. These are designed to help students who cannot move to a university town, cannot travel, have significant financial barriers, have a less than stellar (or non-standard) educational background, and who perhaps are working full-time or have significant time commitments that limit access to the typical university.

Other meta-solutions include creating or adjusting public policy to address issues faced by groups of people who, in Dr. Dale Kirby’s words, “have traditionally been excluded.” He’s referring to Aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities, first-generation students, etc. Dr. Kirby is the Member of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly and Associate Professor at Memorial University. He wrote a short blog post on this subject just a few months ago here. He’s in a strategic position to be able to address the meta-issues and barriers to post-secondary education, and I applaud his work.

I’m glad for reports like the one to the Senate above. I’m glad for big solutions like open universities, and I support the work of people like Dr. Kirby. But, I find it difficult to get personally excited about things like this (and I’m sorry if my writing made it even more boring for you). I think that’s because fundamentally I am a man of action. I want to be able to roll up my sleeves and DO SOMETHING at my own university. By this, I do not mean that reports like the one above aren’t important – they are! They address the large, national issues that allow local action to be more effective. If the issues above are actually addressed, then it makes my job much easier. I can actually DO SOMETHING effective with the tools provided. For example, without Canada Student Loans my ability to help students overcome  financial barriers to enroll at Trinity Western University would be severely hampered.

Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post in which I look at specific, local action to address barriers to post-secondary education.

Cheers!

Grant

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