The University of Toronto welcomes some 14,000 first-year students every September, but for many individuals the prospect of a university education appears out of reach. Yet, some of them will graduate, with the help of a little-known program for people who lack the formal education to qualify for university admission.
The eight-month Transitional Year Program is for “somebody who may have dropped out of high school, somebody who may have been in prison, homeless, a sole-support parent, LGBTQ,” says Lauriann (“L.A.”) Wade, the program’s registrar. Yet, these factors don’t “necessarily determine that they wouldn’t be successful in university.”
Ms. Wade brings a unique understanding to the mindset of transitional-year students because she went through the program herself, in 2004. At the time a sole-support parent of a toddler, Ms. Wade had been “just shy of graduating from high school” and held various reception jobs. “I used to do community-based work a lot, really wanting to uplift people in the black community, and that was working well, but it wasn’t necessarily paying the bills.”
She heard of the transitional program and thought it sounded promising. What she found was a supportive learning environment with staff who “help you believe in yourself before you can,” says Ms. Wade.
The program accepts 65 to 70 students a year. Those who succeed earn a certificate, acceptance into U of T and 2.5 credits towards an undergrad degree. On average, 15 to 20 former transitional-year students graduate annually from U of T, says Ms. Wade.
Her own career trajectory is remarkable. After her undergraduate degree, she earned a master’s of education at U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in 2010 and was hired to her current position, starting on contract. As the program’s first black woman registrar, she supports students through a process she knows well and helps them navigate a system that can seem out of reach. “And,” she says, “I show them how I did it.”
I was very pleased to read the story of L.A. Wade, a registrar at the U of T who helps students who’ve left school transition their way into university. This is such an important story because most people believe the role of registrar is to be a gate-keeper, which is unfortunate. I believe registrars should be actively seeking, creating and promoting pathways to education, and Ms. Wade is a good example for us all in this way. The university I work at (Trinity Western University) has a similar program that we call Freshman Academy, which is designed for students who may have left high school before being admissible to university in the traditional way. These students are often marginalized in similar ways described by Wade, or they have made mistakes or choices that bar them from further education. It’s a very successful program, staffed and supported by faculty who are committed to helping these students become fully admissible and prepared to complete their first degree. We have found that it is crucial to have the courses in this program taught by faculty who understand the barriers faced by these students, and can help them overcome them. Long live registrars like Ms. Wade!