Planned CapU cuts show degree priorities

"The creation of Capilano University will mean thousands of students throughout the Howe Sound corridor will have access to degree-granting programs and be able to reach their educational goals close to home."

Gordon Campbell 25 April, 2008

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DID then-premier Gordon Campbell mean all Howe Sound students with educational goals, or only degree-bound students?

Because unless Capilano University's Board of Governors has a change of heart when it meets with faculty on June 11, the Access to Work (ATW) program at the School of Access and Academic Preparation will lose $1.3 million due to the institution's 2013-14 budgetary shortfall.

If programs are cut back or eliminated, applicants who have overcome many barriers to reach their post-secondary enrolment goals will face new hurdles as they strive toward gainful employment.

Campbell and Murray Coell, then advanced education minister, were upbeat in 2008 as they announced that Capilano College would be raised to university status.

Ostensibly recognizing the changes would come with additional costs, their news release noted that since the Liberals were first elected in 2001, they had "increased operating funds for Capilano by $5.8 million and invested $3.4 million in capital projects."

Unfortunately, as confirmed by public affairs manager Jane MacCarthy, the funding "was the sum total of annual operating fund increases at Capilano U since 2001."

In fact, the university's online 2013/14 budget Facts and Figures reveal Capilano's operating grant of $6,934 per student is "well below the system average of $10,071."

It doesn't take long for things to fall apart, does it?

The writing being most clearly written on the wall, the release contained three references to the institution's ongoing focus on degree programs and, in particular, on specialized studies in "tourism and film."

One of the four Howe Sound Liberal MLAs in attendance at the 2008 announcement was then West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Joan McIntyre who, until April, was a member of Premier Christy Clark's Families First cabinet committee.

Although McIntyre did not seek re-election, it is pertinent to ask whether the premier's families agenda includes the special needs students who had hoped to enrol in the ATW program.

Last week, developmental psychologist and ATW faculty member Kathy Moscrip said she fears the program is "falling through the cracks."

"After the news first broke about the university's need to balance its 2013-14 budget most of the discussion has centred on cuts to other programs," she observed.

"Although cutbacks in any program are of concern, they would be especially severe for students with learning disabilities."

Moscrip doesn't stand alone.

In a May 2 letter to the board, instructors in the Access to Work Experience department expressed their concern that program cuts had been "selected by a few administrators without (the promised) input from faculty members."

The letter went on to say the 21-week AWE program "offers skills and safety training certification, workplace literacy, customer service skills. . . ."

Expanding that theme on May 30, Moscrip said that although ATW has always focused on work experience and employment for students with learning difficulties, "in recent years, students are asking for help to ladder into regular courses at CapU.

"In 2013, 25 per cent of ATW students have applied for, and been accepted into other departments on campus."

No mean achievement for both students and faculty, these are goals Moscrip says the university's administration has encouraged. So what happened?

Did the province reinforce its expectation that CapU should focus on its "core" degree programs?

Did its Feb. 2013 accreditation by the U.S.-based Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities trigger a refresh of the university's priorities?

This discussion begs so many important questions:

What is more beneficial - to have special needs adults dependent on caregivers and social programs, or to fund programs that encourage their employment goals?

Put another way: if taxpayers are reluctant to support these programs - I don't believe that - why did we urge government to ensure equal access for all students in elementary and high-school programs?

Why would students embark on that 12-year educational journey if universities plan to put them off the schooling-bus before they reach their destination?

Economically speaking, students with barriers to learning who receive optimum skills training are enabled to go at least part way to supporting themselves. What a boost to their self-esteem.

During our May 17 discussion of a different topic for a future column, Dr. Michael Markwick, instructor and convenor of CapU's Communications Degree Program, used much stronger words to describe his concerns:

"The cuts to Capilano University, a direct consequence of the government placing our university at the bottom of the list for funding, have seriously compromised the life prospects of these (individuals). We seem to be doing everything we can . . . to close off their access to education."

The same day, parent advocate Dawn Steele accompanied Moscrip to an on-air interview with CKNW host Bill Good. She reminded listeners that Clark had "promised to invest in jobs and skills training and in transition planning to help achieve that.

"Not only has there been no progress on those plans, things are getting worse," she said.

"Getting worse" in a country like Canada will be unwelcome news to the editor who penned Children With Disabilities - Invisible no More in the June 1 issue of the well-respected medical journal, The Lancet.

After discussing the highlights of a May 30 UNICEF report, the State of the World's Children: 2013, the editorial concluded, "When valued equally, included in their environments, allowed to cultivate strengths, and given the opportunity to overcome limitations, children with disabilities thrive - and so too do their families, communities and countries."

All that's required here is for our yet-to-be-elected premier to fund the CapU programs into whose care her predecessor placed the educational dreams - small and large - of so many students in the Howe Sound corridor.

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