By Patrick Evans
Ryerson has no plans to copy Queen’s University’s controversial new strategy to increase its aboriginal student enrolment.
Starting this fall, Queen’s will be admitting 10 Aboriginal students a year whose grades fall below the school’s 85-percent cut-off in an effort to boost their aboriginal student population. Less than one percent of the 8,000 undergrads are Aboriginal Peoples.
The new plans is resurrecting the affirmative action debate, but the debate won’t rage at Ryerson unless someone pursues a scheme similar to Queen’s, a university official said.
“Somebody has to conceive an idea … and get commitments from a range of players in the organization,” said Ryerson Registrar Keith Alnwick.
Ryerson President Claude Lajeunesse said the university already does a good job of attracting aboriginal students. He pointed to the First Nations public administration course — a jointly-run program with the First Nations Technical Institute — which has “the highest retention rate anywhere among aboriginals.
“We pay attention to individuals, we pay attention to the culture, while at the same time not lowering standards. I think that’s very important,” Lajeunesse said. Whether Ryerson is considering a similar policy, Lajeunesse said, “I don’t know.”
At Ryerson’s Aboriginal Student Services, coordinator Monica McKay is working to help aboriginals succeed at school, but she has a different focus. McKay wants to provide Aboriginal Peoples with a bridge to ease the transition into university life.
She identified two challenges aboriginals face in landing a post-secondary education.
The first challenge comes early in life, when students need to start shoring up their marks and their own determination to study past high school.
“In Grade 7 you have to make up your mind what you’re going to do with your life,” McKay said. But too often, she said, this doesn’t happen with aboriginal youth.
The second challenge comes after admission to the school, when economic and cultural difficulties make first year culture shock even more intense for some aboriginal students.
“What I like about working here at Ryerson,” McKay said, “is there’s some flexibility in how you structure programs.”
She believes Ryerson’s continuing education courses and its three-year Diploma in Arts do a good job of preparing students for further study.