By PAT WATSON
Your 16-year-old son says he wants to be a dentist. You are proud of his ambition, and if he gets top grades, scholarships will come his way to assist him in his pursuit. Or if he manages fairly good grades and you are in the high-income range then he will not need to be concerned about the $250,000 cost over the seven to eight years of study.
But if your son is in a family that manages on a low income, despite his desire, he is less likely to even attend university, much less get to dental school. That is the gist of the report, University Participation and Income Differences, by McMaster University professors Martin D. Dooley, A. Abigail Payne and A. Leslie Robb and funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.
The report points to two factors that have in the past decade contributed to this pattern that actually shows a slight decline in the number of students from low income families applying to university, making them 13 per cent less likely to head in that direction than students from upper income families.
The first was the 1995 deregulation of tuition fees in some areas of professional study such as commerce, engineering, law and medicine. The other was the change in the Ontario high curriculum that moved the number of years for high school from five to four. The study looked at statistics from a 10-year period up to 2005.
The condition of low incomes and the lowered prospects for university education parallels the dismal fact that Black people here are almost three times as likely to be living in poverty as the general population. It remains today a far off dream that we could have more persons of colour represented beyond the middle and lower levels in the field of medicine, for example.
The problem of making it more difficult financially to get into professional fields has to be addressed for the simple reason that we lose the untapped pool of talent that is hampered by the cost to attend such programs.
There are students who have the ability to become innovators in such fields but are daunted by the cost. There are students who do not bloom early and achieve the grades that would garner them scholarships to pave their way forward. Or, some students may have earned scholarships for their first year, but stumble in the adjustment to the first year and therefore cannot on their own financially make it back into those courses if their marks slip.
When universities first emerged thousands of years ago the purpose was solely focused on expanding knowledge and intellectual pursuit. Today, a university education is practically considered to be mandatory, and universities are not just for mere intellectual pursuit and research, which the presence of professional schools makes clear. They prepare people to be employable, and not just employable but to put them on the track to positions of economic and social prestige – in the best of all possible scenarios.
But the prohibitive cost to many who wish to pursue higher education makes it almost an impossible dream. Students have been rallying for years to make their voices heard regarding the daunting cost of tertiary education because they understand that the prospects for their future depend on meeting the increasingly high standards that employers set. Since tertiary education is now considered a standard, it stands to reason that we examine the prospect of funding tuition more broadly, as in the case of elementary and high schools. Undergraduate degrees are wholly covered for students in countries such as Egypt, Finland, Sweden and Ireland, so it is not unheard of.
Across the Black population, we keenly understand what it means to use education to uplift ourselves, so any limiting of opportunities has to be a matter of serious concern.
Of course, those of us who have been through the university experience know that it is not a guarantee to a higher income and the best jobs. But, despite having to burden the heavily Eurocentric slant of it here in North America, it is nonetheless a worthwhile endeavour for those inclined to take that path. We need more university graduates who can serve and give a lift to our community coming out of those expensive professional schools. Yet, it is today beyond the reach of too many.
On a note of yet another election season…
After four federal elections in five years, voters, more concerned about jobs and the recent recession, are not inclined to have another election at the moment. However, for those who are not fans of the country’s direction under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership, it’s tough to not want an election yet also to not want the leader we have.