January 16, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 59  

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Program breaks social barriers to higher ed

By Laura Katsirdakis
Gazette Staff

Sometimes the barriers to getting a post-secondary education are not merely financial. A non-profit organization in Manitoba called Career Trek is one of the few early intervention programs in Canada that aims to counteract social barriers to education.

“As of this year, 70 per cent of all jobs will require some post-secondary education, and those jobs will have better pay and more benefits,” said Darrell Cole, executive director and creator of Career Trek.

“The program helps kids and their families understand why school is important,” he said, adding that children are often dissuaded from pursuing post secondary education because they believe they need straight A’s to be accepted. “The program takes elementary school students with potential for post-secondary education but have barriers to going on, and gives them the opportunity to be a college or university student once a week.”

Cole explained there are many social barriers that cause some to perceive themselves as unsuitable for higher education, such as having family members who have never attended post-secondary institutions or not being aware of financial support to help with tuition.

“The Canada Millennium Scholarship fund has done research on non-financial factors barring people from post secondary education and found that a lot of these barriers are social,” said Dave Ford, VP-education for the University Students’ Council at Western.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, of which Ford is the Ontario regional director and vice-chair, is looking into advocating early intervention programs at the federal level.

Adam Spence, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, said they are also investigating early intervention programs. “A lot of the barriers begin in elementary school.

“This is not just about [considering] a career, it is an anti-poverty program — it helps to break the cycle that convinces kids that [higher education is not an option for them].”

The program selects a group of 240 elementary school children per year, aged 10 or 11, and gives them the opportunity to go to post-secondary institutions and learn parts of careers that would be open to them if they pursued higher education, Cole explained.

“[The program also includes] an information day for families explaining [the] financial and non-financial support children will need,” he said.

Cole began the program after failing high school eight years ago. “What made me fail was something in the system,” he explained.

Despite a constant struggle for funding, Cole says he hopes to expand the program to include work with Grade 9 students and Aboriginal children.



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