Mature students: better late than never

New federal grant provides more funding and continued employment insurance for mature students

Deciding to return to school at an older age is usually not simple. 

Having the feeling of not fitting into a changing economic environment seems overwhelming. However, the important thing is to believe in your own personal project, and consider if you have what it takes: time, determination and money.

Determination is something that Wilfredo Polanco, 44, a father of two hoping to get his license as a dentist in Canada, has in volume. 

“You have to make sure you want it, because if you want it, every obstacle (you face), you’re walking through to your goal,” he said. “Many people put attention on the obstacle or problem, I know it’s real, but if you want, you have to find some way to do that.”

Polanco is in level seven of English for academic purposes at George Brown College (GBC). He has worked as a dentist in his home country of El Salvador. He  plans to work part-time and hopes to keep receiving OSAP and the federal government’s new skills boost grant to pursue his dream. 

Beginning this fall, mature students who have been out of high school for at least 10 years, could receive a grant of $1,600 over an eight-month school year or $2,400 for 12 month school year. 

“What this is doing right now, is taking a significant step in making sure that, students who were returning to school later on are provided (with) additional support,” said Michael McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a student advocacy organization.

The pilot program will also allow unemployed learners to continue to get Employment Insurance (EI) when they return to school or get training. Currently, continuing to get EI while going to school requires a referral from designated authorities such as Employment and Social Development Canada staff.  

Getting financial assistance can be challenging for mature students who had income the previous year. Many mature students can’t qualify for government tuition assistance if their family income is too high.

“The second important thing that they did is they also took steps to make sure to get access to employment insurance. They (mature students) now are going to be able to go to post-secondary education without putting the employment benefits in jeopardy,” said McDonald.

The grant is available for students registered in a full-time program pursuing an undergraduate degree, certificate or diploma.

Going back to school for mature students is often a conscious decision to assume bigger challenges compared with those who are leaving home for the first time. With the current economy, in addition to classes, mature students often deal with several jobs, parenting duties and other life challenges.

“Each individual may have a different journey, but obviously, for someone who has been out of the school system for many years, sometimes when they decide to come back to college for their post-secondary education, the thought itself is quite overwhelming,” said Joseph Chon, entry advisor co-ordinator at George Brown College (GBC)

Chon said that at GBC, about 60 to 70 per cent of the mature students coming back to school are immigrants who want to develop new skills and pursue new career goals.

“I am 100 per cent sure that education is the key if you want to be, or if you want to get a better life for the future, for you and for your family,” Polanco said.

To Polanco, the idea of coming back to school is not just about your own goals. 

“When you are a parent, you have to give a good example to your children,” he said, “What’s the excuse? I don’t have excuses.”

Statistics Canada reported that in the 2015-2016 academic year, were 2,034,957 enrollments in Canadian public post-secondary institutions. According to the institutional research and planning and department of human resources at GBC, in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, 28,924 students enrolled in full-time programs, 3,193 in part-time, and 66,410 in continuing education. 

GBC also offers an academic upgrading program that helps mature students to prepare for post-secondary education programs. According to Chon, the words of encouragement he always wants to say to mature students are to be brave.

 “Take action, and you will make it happen, when there is a will, there’s a way,” he said.

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Mature students: better late than never