UBCO program for aboriginal students means no one is turned away - InfoNews

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UBCO program for aboriginal students means no one is turned away

Students from the UBCO Aboriginal Access Studies program.
May 22, 2019 - 4:04 PM

KELOWNA - While aboriginal students may struggle to get their high school diplomas, failing to graduate won’t prevent them from getting a university education at UBC Okanagan.

“We offer an access program for indigenous students where we accept everyone who applies that’s proving to be enormously successful,” Dr. Deborah Buszard, deputy vice-chancellor of UBCO, told Kelowna City Council recently. 

“You may not have a Dogwood or you may be out of school and not finished high school, you might be a returning mature student. In that case we’ll provide cultural and academic supports and by two years into the program, we can’t distinguish between the students who came in that way from any of our other students," Buszard said.

That program is called Aboriginal Access Studies.

Applicants are not screened or tested in advance but have programs geared towards adjusting them to university life.

They have to take nine university level course worth 18 credits and get at least 60 per cent on each of those in order to advance.

Those courses may be combined with non-credit academic upgrading classes, such as writing or math, when needed. There are mandatory tutorials and workshops to help with the transition and there are individual advisors.

“We’ve been so excited because students who have come through access studies have been able to access all the undergraduate degree programs here on campus,” Adrienne Vedan, Director of Aboriginal Programs and Services, told iNFOnews.ca. “They’ve gone into nursing, human kinetics, management, engineering, sciences, arts and visual arts.”

That’s one unique feature to the UBCO program. Other universities limit such access opportunities to certain degree streams.

Aboriginal Access Studies started at UBCO in 2007 with about 15 students and has grown to 50 participating during this past semester, Vedan said.

Originally most came from the local region but students are now coming from all over the country, and while they were initially mostly mature students, more and more younger people are attending.

In some cases, it’s simply a help to overcome the culture shock, Vedan said. If a student grew up in a remote village with a couple of hundred residents, attending UBCO with its 9,000 students can be quite a change.

Although the high school graduation rates for indigenous students is catching up to non-aboriginal rates, it still lags far behind.

The B.C. Teacher’s Federation’s latest figures show 86.5 per cent of non-aboriginal students graduated from high school in 2017-18, compared to only 69.6 per cent for aboriginal. That’s an improvement from the 46.8 per cent of indigenous students who graduated in 2003-04

When it comes to university graduation, Vedan said, there is no difference.

“We’re really excited about aboriginal retention rates here on campus,” she said. “They are on par with the general student body. It’s been really exciting to see that aboriginal students have a successful experience her academically.”

Students can apply at any time and there is, currently, no cap on the number of students who will be admitted. The next courses start in September.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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