Programs helping more at-risk students graduate

TheStar.com – Education – Programs helping more at-risk students graduate: Mentorship and peer tutoring boost overall rates of graduation at college, university in last 5 years
May 15, 2009.   Louise Brown, Education Reporter

They are the first in their families ever to go to university and the first to admit it is not easy.

But a mentoring program for “first-generation” kids like them, plus the friendship of the campus United Black Students club helped Diandra Hayles and Erik Flowchild feel part of Ryerson University.

Now in second year and doing well, Hayles and Flowchild belong to a growing group of at-risk students choosing to stay and graduate from Ontario’s colleges and universities, according to data released yesterday by Queen’s Park.

In the past five years, the graduation rate for universities across Ontario has climbed to 78 per cent from 74 per cent, and for community colleges, the graduation rate has increased to 65 per cent from 57 per cent, said John Milloy, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities.

“A great deal of this improvement is because of the funding we’ve put toward extra support for marginalized students such as first-generation, aboriginal, students with disabilities and francophone,” said Milloy.

At Ryerson, the graduation rate has climbed to 76 per cent from 72 per cent in the past two years, said provost Alan Shepard, who cited ways the school engages students, from peer tutoring to more encouragement in the key first six weeks of school.

Hayles said she didn’t begin to feel like she belonged until she discovered the mentoring program.

“At first I felt: `Wow, I’m in this brand new building and this huge class but most of the other students aren’t from the same background as me,” said Hayles, a student in Ryerson’s school of management.

But the mentoring program proved so encouraging, she now is a mentor to others.

Flowchild, her friend, is also a first-generation student at Ryerson who now encourages teens in at-risk neighbourhoods to think about higher learning.

“That’s where the real focus should be on encouraging kids to get post-secondary education – high school, because so many of them think they can’t do it,” said Flowchild.

“But if we want to create all these Canadian citizens, we have to start young.”
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THE GRADUATES

Percentage of students who graduated in 2007 within seven years of starting:

79.8
University of Toronto

75.8
Ryerson University

67.7
York University

80.4
McMaster University

75
University of Guelph

72
Brock University

79.1
University of Western Ontario

Source: Council of Ontario Universities

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