In a recent study conducted by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), results revealed that students of Caribbean descent were less likely to pursue postsecondary education or graduate from high school than East Asian or Caucasian students.

The HEQCO council, formed in 2005 under the government of Ontario, is committed to improving the postsecondary education system. The agency provides recommendations to enhance the quality and access of higher education for students province wide.  

The statistics for this study of immigrant students was gathered over six years (2000-06) and focused primarily on a group of Grade 9 students from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

According to Harvey Weingarten (president and CEO of HEQCO), “nearly three-quarters of new jobs will require some form of postsecondary education” and it will be up to Ontario to “meet this need.”

Students protest tuition fees on the streets of downtown Toronto in November 2009

The government of Ontario has recently proposed to increase the province’s post-secondary attainment rate to 70 percent. However, the challenge of getting under-represented groups to enroll at equal rates still remains problematic.

Currently, 45 per cent of Caribbean students drop out of high school while only 12 per cent commit to University.

Despite lacking numbers in Universities, Caribbean students are among the more populous immigrant groups in colleges. The report suggests that along with English-speaking Canadian and African-born students, Caribbean students are most likely to attend college.

But why college over University?

“Being a college professor is a full-time job,” says Ursula McCloy, research director at the HEQCO. “It’s more student-focused.”

She also adds that the colleges are located more locally than universities, which plays a big part in saving students money and keeping them within their “comfort” zone.

Despite the perks associated with college, nearly half of the Caribbean student body still choose to drop out of secondary school.

As a recommendation for eliminating this discrepancy, the study suggests that more courses on career planning and guidance at the high school level be implemented. This, according to the report, will compensate for the “current lack of vocational guidance and information” available to students.

“In order to get into University, you have to take certain courses,” says McCloy, who states that better guidance programs will lead to students taking the courses necessary to receive consideration from universities.

That being said, if the government is as keen on increasing post-secondary enrollment of under-represented groups as they say they are, why not drop the fees?

Ontario students currently have the highest tuition fees in Canada, paying on average just under $6000 per year. This figure is staggering; consider the fact that students in Quebec and Newfoundland pay less than half that cost ($2000-$3000 annually).

While OSAP loans are always an option, one can debate its financial effectiveness as many students find themselves saddled with debt when ready to graduate. 

Since postsecondary education is increasingly a staple of social mobility in our province, it is ironic the government would pledge full support to underrepresented groups while neglecting the obstacle faced by so many of these students- copious tuition fees.

If more guidance programs are introduced into high schools and postsecondary tuition fees are lowered, perhaps more Caribbean students will find themselves attending University. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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