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JAMES: B.C.’s blueprint for education fails adult learners

“I am pleased and honoured to accept this role that brings me back to Capilano University at a time of dynamic development and adaptation to meet the diverse needs of today’s students.” — J. Paul Dangerfield When J.

“I am pleased and honoured to accept this role that brings me back to Capilano University at a time of dynamic development and adaptation to meet the diverse needs of today’s students.”
— J. Paul Dangerfield

When J. Paul Dangerfield takes up his position as president and vice-chancellor of Capilano University in October, we can only hope his proven skills in communication and leadership development can reopen the doors to free basic education for students ages 19 and over who, for diverse reasons, need those courses.

Michael Markwick, professor in the university’s School of Communication and spokesperson for explained the issue this way: “In 2015, the Clark government replaced a fair system of free access to basic education for learners 19 or older with an unwieldy patchwork of limited, income-based and taxable grants that are capped at three years.”

The immediate result for Cap has been declining enrolment in the adult basic education courses. In turn, this bars vulnerable students from aspiring to a university education and broader career opportunities.

North Shore student Kat Sorritelli knows the effect only too well.

As an A-B student, Kat graduated from high school in 2005 and worked until she took maternity leave in 2013. Five months after returning to work in 2014, her job came to an end. At that point, Kat re-evaluated the future she was facing for herself and her daughter.

“It was not an easy decision but I chose to return to school to give us both a better life. It will give us more security and stability for the future,” she said.

In order for Kat to pursue that path, her decision meant she needed to upgrade her outdated high school levels in mathematics and science.

Her problem with that has become one of affordability. Now the grants are calculated according to income — and taxed as well. Kat says it was the worst feeling to have to ask her family for money. The changes to the provincial rules also mean she can only afford one course per semester which, right now, is pre-calculus 11.

“I feel this takes money away from three generations — my family, myself and, indirectly, my daughter,” Kat said.

So what happened to then B.C. Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant’s lofty Campus 2020 recommendations?

As Prof. Markwick reminds us, Plant wrote, “Failure to complete high school … limits job and career options and is often associated with poor life outcomes such as higher criminality, poorer health and a greater dependence on social services …”

Is that the future our society wants for Kat and for other vulnerable students?

Over the long term and no matter their age, ensuring a person’s basic education or upgrading their skills is an investment, not a cost to society.

In January 2015, when outgoing Cap president Kris Bulcroft announced she would be stepping down this July — a year beyond the end of her contract — she said she hoped the extra time would enable her to help guide the school through some looming challenges, not the least of which would be the third million-dollar budgetary deficit in a row.

Yet right out of the starting gate, and for some still unexplained reason, Capilano University has never received the level of funding former premier Gordon Campbell allocated to other colleges when he upgraded them to university status. Why is that, Premier Clark? No bafflegab, straight out, why is that?

Whatever the reason may be, the government’s decision to discriminate against a “person or class of persons…” on the basis of age is not only unconscionable, it contravenes the Human Rights Act.

Saying she knows two students who could not register this semester because ABE tuition fees were reinstated, Kat worries declining enrolment will lead to program cuts.

“I feel the government wants the population to be dumb. I am a hard-working, tax-paying single mother who just wants her basic education back so that I can become an even better contributing member of the community,” she said.

For the well-being of our North Shore community, and especially for the younger generation, it would be good to hear how the incoming president plans to persuade the province to “right the basic education ship” and enable Cap to steer a steady course and fulfil the mandate it was given to make that education available to all, regardless of age and financial status.

After 16 years with the multi-disciplinary Perinatal Programme of B.C. and later in various endeavours in the growing high-tech industry, Elizabeth James now connects the dots every second Wednesday on local, regional and provincial issues. She can be reached via email at

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