Aboriginal Access to Post-Secondary

Aboriginal people make up 6% of BC and the percentage is rising quickly.

From an economic standpoint there’s a huge wage gap between aboriginal and non aboriginal workers pay based on looking at full time workers with the same career classification. But the good news is that the more education an aboriginal person has the closer that gap is. In fact the gap almost disappears for aboriginal people with a masters degree or higher. But Aboriginal people are less likely to go to post secondary, with only 45% of working age aboriginal people having a post secondary certificate diploma or degree compared to 62% for non aboriginal residents.

Looking at high school graduation only about 50% of aboriginal students who enter grade 8 graduate in six years compared to 80% non aboriginal.

The good news is that about 70% of working age aboriginal people have their graduation diploma (Dogwood) or higher (including trades, post secondary certificates diplomas and degrees) compared to 85% non aboriginal. So the rate for non aboriginal people increases only 5 percent from high school graduation but for aboriginal people it jumps 20%. What that shows me is that considerably more aboriginal people are taking non tradition routes to their education; whether that means adult basic education or mature entry to college or trades.

This is an opportunity for post secondary institutions.

How? In a survey I conducted through NEC of past Aboriginal ABE students we asked about why they returned to school. The main reasons were as expected, access to post secondary studies and better career options. But what came up as a major reason, especially for men, was having the opportunity to return to school.

The data implies that Aboriginal people are more likely to go into post secondary via an alternative route, but what if one of the reasons they don’t attend is because they don’t know what routes are open to them? Now we have our first steps.

If you want to attract more Aboriginal students, and why wouldn’t you want to, making sure that those alternate routes are available and known is the first step. We need to smooth the path to post secondary.

But before we get too far ahead we should make sure we don’t make the same mistake that gets made at the high school level. Why don’t more aboriginal students complete high school in the first place? First and foremost: family and money. According to our research the two biggest reasons are dropping out to have or take care of children, or to get a job to support themselves or their family. But third biggest reason was that they didn’t feel supported by or connected to school.

Step two becomes smoothing the path of post secondary. A lot of this is making sure the same resources that are already being put toward first generation students are also being explicitly extended to aboriginal students as well. We need to focus on cultural connections, ensure that our students can be plugged into the campus in as many ways as possible. Aboriginal mentorship programs, gathering spaces, aboriginal focused academic advisors who can check up on self-identified students. Explicitly providing ways for aboriginal students to be part of student life while remaining partly in their comfort zone is essential for helping them connect with the campus.

So we have on one side the recruitment, focusing on the potential increase in income, job security, etc. and showing what the alternative routes into post secondary are (mature entry, access to post secondary programs, ABE). And on the other side, once a student is in school, we need to keep them connected and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that have been made in the past.

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