Using shuttered factories and stores as college classrooms to ensure as many would-be students as possible are accommodated this fall is an idea that can’t be dismissed out of hand, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday.
With applications to Ontario colleges projected to be up by almost 15 per cent, with a 23 per cent jump in applications from non-high school students, the Opposition is calling for such unorthodox steps to address what it calls a “crisis” created by the government. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to the folks within the ministry, in particular the minister,” McGuinty said when asked about the scheme. “It’s an interesting idea and I think it would be irresponsible of me to reject it out of hand.”
Monday was the deadline to apply to Ontario colleges for the year beginning Sept. 6, and the Progressive Conservatives said the government has failed to properly plan for a big increase in the number of applications from unemployed workers. “Mr. McGuinty is to blame for this unprecedented situation we’re in now,” said Tory critic Jim Wilson. “It’s the first time in several generations that those young people that want to go to college may not have the opportunity to do so.”
The final number for college applicants won’t be known for a few days. The non-high school applicants are mainly people who’ve lost their jobs.
Some colleges have seen a 47 per cent jump in applications, said Wilson, who warned a lot of high school students could find themselves shut out of college by the older competition. “We know in the short-term in this crisis there’s going to be thousands of students who won’t be able to find a place,” he said.
McGuinty didn’t dispute Wilson’s claims but said there was an upside to the problem: more and more people are recognizing the value of higher education and want to return to college. “I embrace that challenge,” McGuinty said. “I believe it’s a legitimate point that’s being made.”
It’s no surprise that in times of economic challenge people are going back to college, said the premier, who promised the government would address the problem of limited spaces in the March budget.
There are lots of closed stores and factories that could quickly be converted into college classrooms, said Wilson. “Open up some of the factories that are closed in our ridings and some of the shops on the main streets, put some desks and chairs in them, bring back retired professors if you have to,” he said. “We have lots of vacant storefronts and I’m sure we could get a pretty good deal from landlords.”
This is a crisis situation and the government seems to have no plan to deal with it, added Wilson. “I don’t think there’s a reason at all — except for lack of planning — for the government to be turning away students,” he said.
The Liberals should have known they’d create problems for high school students with their second career program, which has resulted in a surge of applications for post-secondary education, said Wilson. “The government should have seen this coming,” he said. “Instead, laid-off workers and Ontario students are left fighting each other over opportunities to improve their education, training and job prospects.”
College administrators have said they would not give special priority to the Grade 12 candidates over the other applicants.
The Canadian Press