NorQuest removing barriers to access for Indigenous learners

November 16, 2020
For NorQuest to truly respect the processes of reconciliation and to assure that education – one of the most basic human rights – is available to everyone, we must learn to provide that education wisely and appropriately. Enrolment data at the college suggests that while Indigenous learner applications have remained constant over the last five years, so too has our matriculation rate (around 60%). While these numbers are good, there is much opportunity for improvement.

“Our matriculation rates suggest some barriers exist and are delimiting access to post-secondary education for Indigenous learners,” says Tibetha Kemble, Senior Manager, Indigenous Relations and Supports. “It was important that we took a closer look at our policies, processes, and procedures – both internal and external – to develop a greater understanding of what and where those barriers exist.”

Reconciliation meets admissions

College data points to both internal and external forces impacting Indigenous learner enrolment. The most common reasons for non-matriculation include failure to pay a tuition deposit, waitlisting for admission when qualified, or no further contact from the college after applying.

The tuition deposit requirement was the first barrier to be addressed. While there are a number of complex factors as to why an Indigenous learner would  not pay a tuition deposit, we understand from lived and shared experience that some Indigenous learners who apply and qualify for admission may not have the financial resources to immediately pay the deposit that will secure a seat in their program of choice. As a result, an Indigenous learner may lose their seat, be waitlisted, and/or abandon the admissions process altogether. “By providing Indigenous learners the option to waive the tuition deposit, we are able to increase the speed of entry into programs of choice and secure a seat,” says Kemble.

Another key factor was for NorQuest to set admission floors (or minimums) in high-demand programs, which attempts to reduce waitlisting and to address the under-representation of Indigenous learners. By setting admission floors, the college signals to Indigenous peoples and communities that it understands, and is responsive to, the under-representation of Indigenous peoples across all sectors and professions.

“Floors are distinct from quotas,” explains Kemble. “An Admissions Floor is the minimum number of seats held for a particular group in an academic program. The Indigenous Admissions Floors initiative applies to Indigenous learners only, to support and advance the process of reconciliation and to redress the impacts of colonization that are distinct to Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

A third crucial step was to develop an Indigenous Admissions Model that is responsive to the lived-realities and potential of Indigenous learners and that honours their rich lived-experience.

“We see a significant number of Indigenous learners who may not meet admissions requirements of their programs of choice,” says Kemble. “We recognize the strength and resilience of Indigenous learners who apply to the college and want to ensure our Admissions model is responsive to their lived-realities. Over the coming months, we’ll be working on a holistic admissions model that may consider the history, cultural knowledge, work experience, educational goals, and other achievements in determining an Indigenous learner’s admissibility. NorQuest is also reviewing and adapting existing programs to better meet the needs of Indigenous peoples and communities. Ultimately, the college’s goal is to help build a critical mass of highly-skilled Indigenous peoples in post-secondary education in Alberta.

“We’re very excited to advance these important changes,” says Kemble. “We like to think we’re re-drawing the blueprint for post-secondary Indigenous education for our community.”

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