Three UWindsor researchers say Ontario colleges can better recruit and retain underrepresented groups by creating a collaborative provincial model, improving tracking systems, developing universal definitions and expanding successful programs.
Applied social psychology doctoral candidates, Twiladawn Stonefish (Hons. BA ‘11, MA ‘13), Ashlyne O'Neil (Hons. BA ‘10, MA ‘14) and Joan Craig (Hons. BA ‘12, MA ‘14), with supervisor Shelagh Towson, were enlisted by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario to survey provincial colleges for the study, The Recruitment of Underrepresented Groups at Ontario Colleges: A Survey of Current Practices.
The study identified inconsistent practices and policies as the first hurdle to recruiting and retaining target groups.
“There was no single way to recruit underrepresented groups and there weren’t consistent definitions of what it means to be underrepresented. The job roles of those who handled recruitment responsibilities, ranged across colleges and the groups identified as underrepresented, differed regionally,” says Stonefish.
The three also say some colleges found students reluctant to self-identify as a member of an underrepresented group, which hindered tracking targeted groups.
“Some people may not want special services or special treatment and may refuse to self-identify with any group,” says Craig.
The researchers say some college staff found self-identification rose significantly, when it was clearly outlined that data would remain private and was designed to improve services. This provided a simple fix to the problem.
Stonefish says colleges were developed in the 1960s to provide education to people not being served by the university system.
“The mandate of colleges was always to be regionally responsive, so colleges need to work closely with communities and local labour makers to determine a curriculum that best supplies employable workers at the end,” says Stonefish.
She says that since regions do not always share the same underrepresented groups, colleges must target regionally appropriate groups.
“Some colleges may target groups based on available funding streams, but that may not be the group that most needs the money in that region,” says O’Neil.
Among successful initiatives was one by Toronto’s Centennial College, which made it a priority to attend community events and appoint members of underrepresented communities to boards.
Centennial also created an outreach program for at-risk youth called Helping Youth Pursue Education (HYPE). The six-week summer program for young people aged 17 to 26 included free meals as well as transportation, academic courses and resume and leadership workshops.
“A lot of these youth don’t think post-secondary schooling is an option for them, let alone a plausible option,” says O’Neil. “These are communities that suffer from poverty, gang violence and other high rates of crime - risk factors that could limit their chances of entering school past high school, or even finishing high school.”
Craig says there was no obligation to attend Centennial after HYPE finished.
“They just wanted these youth to consider post-secondary education as an option. It is more about outreach than direct recruitment.”
The researchers presented their findings and recommendations to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities representatives and other policy makers and stakeholders at a symposium in March 2015. The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario will publish their project this summer.