You’re going to have to pay now now to improve your schooling

How much for courses not set, Liberals hitting those who can least afford it

Agnes Opolska is taking courses at Riverside Centre and wants to become an X-ray technician.

Agnes Opolska is taking courses at Riverside Centre and wants to become an X-ray technician.

With looming fees for adult education, the provincial government is putting more financial pressure on citizens who can least afford it, says a Maple Ridge student and working mother.

Agnes Opolska is taking courses at Riverside Centre, with a goal to switch careers – she would like to become an X-ray technician.

At present, any high school courses she needs are free in B.C. But that is about to change. The current adult education classes at Riverside, running from Feb. 2 to June 12, will be her last ones for free.

The new charges will put more financial strain on people who are trying to get ahead, she says.

“I’m a parent of two kids. One is going to university [in two years], and I’m saving for them,” she said. “I need to save some money quickly.”

That will get tougher for her, because in May the education ministry will stop funding adults for upgrade courses.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district has yet to determine what the course fees will be, but they will be capped at $320. Core high school courses like biology, pre-calculus, physics, chemistry, English and others are offered through the district’s continuing education program.

Opolska was recently informed about the pending fees, announced in December.

“I got upset when they told me about it,” she said. “I thought, in the back of my mind, that I might take one course, not two.”

She said most of the Riverside adult learners are in similar situations to hers – they are parents trying to get ahead.

She appreciates her “very good” teachers at Riverside, and resents that her education will be disrupted.

“You struggle through life day by day, and when something like that comes up …  It’s just another hit.”

Kim Bondi, principal at Riverside Centre, said in addition to mature students like Opolska, Riverside Centre helps younger post secondary students who are trying to qualify for a program, or get into university.

“Many of our B.C. graduates are students over 19 who are looking to receive a better mark on a particular course,” he said. “These students have applied for a post secondary program and need a minimum mark or a better mark in order to apply. As well, we have students who have graduated, but now need a particular course or courses that are needed for a post secondary program.”

Non-graduates will continue to be offered courses leading to a B.C. Dogwood certificate, or B.C. Adult Graduation – the only students affected by the ministry announcement are those who already hold a Dogwood.

Bondi is anticipating the new charges will be a barrier to education for some people.

“We believe there will likely be a reduction in the number of B.C. graduated adults enrolling in courses this coming September,” he said. “The net impact remains to be seen.”

The president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association said the new fees are another example of the government “nickel and diming” taxpayers.

“When you hear this government talking about ‘families first,’ it’s a certain family they’re talking about,” said George Serra. “It’s really pinching the blue collar and the middle class.”

Opolska hopes the government will reverse its decision, if there is public pressure.

“They’re picking on people who need a break.”

The government says low-income students will be able to apply for grants to cover the course fees.

“The changes accomplish three things. It refocuses K-12 funding on school-aged students and adults pursuing a high school degree. Second, this provides greater consistency and sustainability in how we deliver adult upgrading courses in the K-12 and postsecondary sectors. And third, it improves adult upgrading grants to support those in need of assistance,” said Education Minister Peter Fassbender in making the announcement.

“High school is free, but further upgrading is not. I think it is reasonable to expect adults who’ve already graduated to contribute to these costs.”