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By Patrick Szpak

Anton Allahar worked two years at Honest Ed’s to earn the $212 tuition fee for Ryerson Polytechnical Institute’s diploma in arts program — a modest diploma from a modest school.

He won the gold medal for topping his class in 1973, the first recipient of the award in the first cohort to complete the three-year program.

Thirty-six years later, Allahar still has the Ryerson medal tucked away in a drawer in his house in London, Ont. The Ryerson diploma was the beginning of a stellar academic career that culminated in a PhD from the University of Toronto and led to Allahar becoming a full professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario.

Ryerson too has changed in the decades since Allahar’s graduation. The university announced this week that it will no longer offer the diploma in arts program, the last diploma to be offered by the school.

Tessa Dimitrakopoulos, 19, is a first-year diploma in arts student who is grateful the program was still being offered when she graduated from high school.

“This was my only option because I couldn’t get in elsewhere.”

Dimitrakopoulos hopes to become a physical education teacher and plans to transfer into a degree program after she has upgraded her marks in the diploma in arts program.

She said that the cancellation of the diploma will put a lot of pressure on students who may have to go elsewhere to upgrade their grades before getting into a degree program.

Carol Cassidy, dean of the faculty of arts at Ryerson, says ending the three-year diploma, which usually has 50 to 100 students enrolled in it, makes sense because most students were using the first year of the degree to upgrade their marks.

“We only had two or three students graduating with the diploma last year. Most students take one year and then move into another program.”

Cassidy said it wasn’t fair to ask students whose grades were not good enough for full degrees coming out of high school to complete the diploma to upgrade.

“Are you going to tell someone to do a three-year diploma to upgrade their marks? No.”

She also said that the value of diplomas has decreased over time and that retiring staff made it difficult to justify continuing the program.

Cassidy stressed that options for students seeking to upgrade their grades at Ryerson would still exist. Continuing education courses and other programs are offered across the university, and not just through the faculty of arts.

On learning that Ryerson is cancelling the program he first graduated from, Allahar said, “It’s sad to see things like that go.”

Allahar said it wouldn’t be fair to let students enroll in a program that had lost so much of its worth since its inception in 1970.

“The three-year program is dead. It served its purpose back in ‘73.”

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