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University of Toronto targets non-traditional university students

University of Toronto targets non-traditional university students.

BY SPARROW MCGOWAN | APR 02 2014

Only a few Canadian universities have transitional programs that offer access to people who wouldn’t normally qualify for university. One of the oldest is the Transitional Year Program at the University of Toronto.

L.A. Wade, the program’s registrar, says the eight-month access program is “for people who do not have the formal education to qualify for university admittance.” This includes “somebody who may have dropped out of high school, somebody who may have been in prison, homeless, a sole-support parent, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two-spirited, Queer).”

The program typically accepts 65 to 70 students a year but rarely turns people away, says Ms. Wade. “We like to tell them if they’re not prepared for university, we give them their options of what they can do to get up to snuff.” People still have time to apply for entry into TYP before the May 1 deadline for next fall.

Ms. Wade understands the mindset of prospective students who inquire about the program because she went through it herself, starting in 2004. “A lot of our students have so many fears about coming into an academic setting,” she says.

Successful students finish the program with a certificate, automatic acceptance into U of T and 2.5 credits toward their undergraduate degree. On average, 15 to 20 former TYP students graduate each year from the University of Toronto, says Ms. Wade.

She herself went on to complete her undergraduate degree at U of T, followed by a master’s of education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She is the first black woman registrar of the program – but she is by no means the only completer who went on to a longer career in academe.

Ashley Sanders, who joined TYP in 2003, pursued her interest in the sciences despite having only finished Grade 9 before entering the university access program. (TYP focuses mainly on the arts and social sciences but one of the electives is a science course.) Ms. Sanders is now in the final year of her PhD in cell and developmental biology at the University of British Columbia. “It was through the support of the actual program that I was able to get the confidence to go through a specialist degree in genes, genetics and biotechnology,” says Ms. Sanders.

Besides offering a way to get into university, “they really provided above and beyond that,” says Ms. Sanders, “and I think that’s in the form of creating a sense of community.” She says the program provides people with “the confidence and the opportunity to pursue their dreams, even when faced with challenges or discouragement from others.”

One way it builds community is by tapping into close community connections it has built over its more than 40-year history to reach the individuals who would most benefit from the program.

“We’ve continued to maintain those community contacts,” says Ms. Wade. “Through immigration services, housing services, homeless shelters, even with the Toronto Police Association, we’ve kept ourselves on the ground, so our word-of-mouth has been really [broad]. And since we’ve been around since 1970, that’s a lot of years to have people talking about the program.”

Other universities with similar programs include Dalhousie University, which started around the same time as U of T and mainly focuses on increasing participation of Black and Aboriginal students, and York University, which started its program more recently, consulting with U of T on its development, says Ms. Wade.

As reported last month in U of T’s student newspaper The Varsity, a decision to move the program’s offices from its current location in a house to a nearby building shared with Woodsworth College stirred concerns about the program’s future. U of T provost Cheryl Regehr has said that there is no intention to end the program.

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