On Campus

Post-secondary recruitment in isolated or disadvantaged communities

Its amazing how easy it really is

The Hamilton Spectator ran a story on Saturday about a recruitment trip by Hamilton’s Mohawk College to Moose Factory in northern Ontario.

The story itself is very interesting. It is also nationally relevant – it speaks to a wider issue, the need for all post-secondary institutions to actively recruit in disadvantaged communities. (The sad fact of Canada is that some of our most disadvantaged  are isolated First Nations communities.)

The Spectator sent up one of their best photographers along with its post-secondary reporter to cover the story. The pictures add much to the story; take a look at the PDFs of the print edition for those: page 4 and page 5.

The Spectator has a web-extra multimedia slideshow to go with the story.

What I find interesting in it is to see the career fair in the local arena and all the colleges that have taken the time and money to recruit in Moose Factory. Let’s face the reality, there isn’t a lot of financial gain involved for the colleges there. This is an area with a high poverty rate that is still trying to recover from residential schools — not exactly fertile ground for post-secondary recruitment. Students who choose to attend post-secondary education from this community are likely to require both financial and student service support from the college. They will cost more to educate. They are also less likely to be spending a small fortune on college merchandise. In short, this is not a lucrative market.

The fact that colleges recruit in these communities is to their credit.

Growing up in Hamilton East, I saw first hand this effect. Mohawk College actively recruited in my area, McMaster had some junior recruiter come out to my area one day and give an uninspiring speech. The kid (really, he was just a recent graduate) had no idea what he was doing. That was it. When I completed High School, I applied to Mohawk College – it was the only place that seemed interested in me. I grew up in the “wrong” postal code after all. I was accepted by Mohawk in a computer science program. This was right around the dot-com bust and I had second thoughts.

(York University’s political science department tried to recruit me. I just couldn’t bring myself to move to Toronto with its high cost of living. The financial aid package was great, had it been in a more affordable region, I would have likely accepted the offer. Tuition wasn’t the barrier, it was a lack of understanding. I had no one to guide me. In hindsight, I now understand there are living options in Toronto that would have made the York option managable.)

The reality is that it’s easy to recruit in the affluent suburbs. Thanks to grade inflation everybody has an A average (no need to spend money on filtering recruits or to consider circumstances), they are less likely to require campus services, their families are more likely to have access to the credit necessary to afford residence, and are more likely to purchase all the services and merchandise the university is counting on them buying to pad the bottom line.

It isn’t hard to spike interest in post-secondary education.

In my hometown of Hamilton, many youth in the poorer areas of the east end are interested in Concordia University. You read that right, they are interested in Concordia. At the very least, they wonder what it is about. Why? Simple, Concordia has purchased bus advertisements and has sent a recruiter into the local high schools.

Anecdotal information leads me to believe that Concordia’s campaign is working. A few months ago, Denise Savoie, the federal NDP’s post-secondary education critic, and I were discussing access. Savoie mentioned that she met a lot of students from Hamilton East when she visited Concordia. I’ve heard on the street in Hamilton East stories of youth going to Concordia.

I know from living in Winnipeg that the University of Manitoba and Winnipeg’s active recruitment campaigns are giving young people in the impoverished north end hope. It is a national disgrace the conditions in north Winnipeg. I admire the work of the Winnipeg Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs and other agencies working in that community. I volunteered there. I was shocked by the level of poverty there and that’s saying a lot considering where I grew up.

I remember clearly something that happened when I was volunteering one day at a north end Boys’ and Girls’ Club. There was a child, about seven years of age. Looking at him, you could tell the level of poverty he was living in. It broke my heart. I remember him asking me my name. I told him. He asked where I was from, I said Hamilton. Very smart kid, he knew exactly where Hamilton was. Then he asked me why I was in Winnipeg. This question scared me. Where I’m from, if someone is volunteering at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club and we knew they were from McMaster University, it was the kiss of death – they clearly didn’t grow up in our community and, we felt, couldn’t related to it. I told the child that I was attending the University of Manitoba. The child, without hesitation, replied; “That’s cool my cousin goes there and I’m going to go there when I grow up.” You know, for all the disadvantages that child faces, he has hope of a better future.

That’s really the point here, that active recruitments spreads hope. It shows that the institution is interested in the potential student. The student becomes more interested in the institution and it creates a positive cycle. Eventually, they are in post-secondary education.

This is why this local newspaper story has national revelance.

Well done Hamilton Spectator.


As an aside, and from a purely Hamiltonian perspective:

What surprised me here was that a local newspaper who budget to send two staff to cover a story such as this. There was a significant investment involved in getting this story.

For years, I have easily been able to call The Hamilton Spectator: “The Toronto Star with pages missing.” The running joke, at least in my circles, whenever The Spectator was selling subscriptions was to tell the salesperson “I subscribe to The Toronto Star, if I wanted the Spectator, I would just rip out the good parts of it and paste ‘The Hamilton Spectator’ on the front.”

The Spectator recent invested in a weekend issues section. This native recruitment article was in it. I can say that this section will keep me subscribing to The Spectator. While still not as good of a local paper as say The Winnipeg Free Press, The Spectator is improving. Actually, for the last few months, I have looked forward to the grabbing the paper in the morning.

Hopefully, Torstar will continue to allow The Spectator to invest in these quality stories.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I never got over The Spectator’s move from being an afternoon paper to a morning paper. This was in 1994.)

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