Double cohort: Countdown to Graduation
Ironically, in the year of the double cohort, when Ontario will have its largest graduating class ever, many schools are going to be hard pressed to give graduating students the help and advice they will need.
Over the past couple of years, guidance counsellors have been urging high school students planning to graduate in 2003 to explore a wide range of postsecondary options including staying in school longer, taking a year off, applying to a college or university further from home or even out of province, or applying to smaller institutions that traditionally have had unfilled spaces.
Now the time has come when tens of thousands of Grade 12 and OAC students have to decide whether they will try to get into a college or university, get a job or take on an apprenticeship. The competition is expected to be fierce and studentsespecially those wanting to get into a college or universityare hearing from all sides that they should have not just one but multiple alternative plans in place.
Theres lots of information available online about all those options and students have to seek it out, says Phil Hedges, head of the Ontario School Counsellors Association (OSCA), whose web site offers the widest range of information about college, university, apprentice and workplace-entry information.
Students need to do a lot more research than they used to. Although guidance counsellors will be giving what assistance they can, most schools are going to have only limited ability to respond to all the requests from students and parents for guidance.
I think there is a fear that some students will just do part of the research and then either get frustrated or fed up and wont continue, says Hedges, whereas they might find that the next option has requirements closer to their background and they might have a better chance at admission.
Double Cohort Arrives Early
That advice is even more important after this years experience. Everyone knew that some students planned to use their study periods and summer school to get the necessary credits and graduate early, but many surmised that few students would bother.
So it was a surprise to find that community colleges and universities across the system received many more applications for 2002 than had been projected. Greg Marcotte, executive director of the Ontario University Application Centre (OUAC), says that 10,000 more students than were projected applied to Ontario universities for September. Were definitely seeing the beginning of the double cohort, he says.
Colleges experienced a similar surge in enrolment. The Ontario College Application Service, which handles college applications, says that by June their applicant numbers were up more than 17 per cent above the year before.
If these increases were due entirely to fast-trackers, it might be expected that the higher applicant numbers in 2002 would mean lower numbers in 2003. But the double graduating class is not the only pressure on postsecondary education. The younger children of the baby boom generation are now graduating from high school and there is an increase in the percentage of young people in each graduating class who opt for more education. Even the numbers of applicants who come to postsecondary education from the workplace, another province or another country have increased beyond the numbers expected.
Now the evidence suggests that there will likely be thousands more high school students applying to college or university in 2003 than was forecast even six months ago.
The provincial government has addressed concerns about physical space by committing $1.8 billion to colleges and universities throughout Ontario. Although many people complained that it came too late for 2003, most institutions are now saying that physical facilities will be adequate. In fact, a few have their facilities ready for this year.
Carleton University is ahead of schedule on a 400-bed residence. Our new building will be open as of this September, says Susan Gotheil, associate vice-president of enrolment management. The campus may be a little muddy, but not only will we be prepared for fall 2003 but a lot of our new facilities are on board a year earlier than that.
Operating funds has been a separate and very contentious issue. The government promised funding would be available for every student, but allocations have not kept up with the increased enrolments.
The Council of Ontario Universities warned as recently as May 2002 that enrolment in universities in 2001-2002 had increased by more than double the projected figure and would more than double again for 2002-2003 enrolment.
The government addressed the universities concern in June with another $70 million for operating costs, and universities were quick to try to ease students fears.
I think its important to signal to students that the government has done its part; the universities will do their part. I think its time to give students and their parents a sense of confidence that by and large the problemas best we can tellis solved, says Sheldon Levy, vice-president of government and institutional relations at the University of Toronto. The U of T in April declared it would not be able to increase the number of students it registered in 2002 to respond to the unexpected increase in applications. Now the university says it will be able to enrol an additional 1,000 students this year.
But the colleges, who received much less in the June budget, were not nearly as happy with that announcement. Although they are facing the same pressures as the universities, Ontarios 25 colleges, with 140,000 students currently, received only $5 million for additional operational funding.
The steady decrease in operational support over recent years at the same time as enrolments have steadily risen has left all institutions with inadequate facilities and large student/faculty ratios.
Counselling Services Cut
This, then, is the backdrop for students in the 2003 graduating class headed back to high school. They have two principal tasksone is to research all the many postsecondary options available to them, decide which institutions entrance requirements they can meet and then get their applications in on time. The second task is to make sure they can deliver the marks that their applications promise, since offers are usually dependent on final grades.
But they will be much more on their own than ever before.
"Part of the problem is that the funding formula suggests that the allocation for guidance counsellors should be 2.6 per thousand students, but it doesn't protect it," says OSCA president Phil Hedges. Faced with severe budgeting problems, many boards have chosen to assign counsellors to teaching duties, effectively cutting guidance positions.
Thames Valley District School Board made 43 per cent cuts in teacher-librarian and guidance positions for 2002. Clark Road last year had just under 1,300 high school students and about 600 were eligible to graduate. The guidance counselling positions have just been cut from three full-time counsellors to 1- 2/3 counsellors for the double cohort year. "There are schools in our district with 500 secondary school students and only a half-time counsellor," says Hoy.
There are going to be big lineups. I can see those coming, Hoy says. He is planning in-school workshops for students for things like the online application process and OSAP applications, but after that, theyre going to be on their own an awful lot.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board, despite already having a student/guidance counsellor ratio that meets the ministry allocation, is considering even more for what they believe will be a difficult year for students.
Linda Langero, program co-ordinator for guidance and experiential learning at the board, says that they are considering giving schools the resources to hire recently retired guidance counsellors on a supply basis to help cope with the extra demands of 2003.
Universities, too, are likely to be as frank as possible with students. Queens is expecting to be inundated next year, says Registrar Joanne Brady, and is planning to manage the process as best it can.
Its the only fair thing to do for both the student and for us, says Brady.
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