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B-schools to support first-generation, recent immigrant, as well as aboriginal students

EQUALITY

How B-schools are creating opportunities for the disadvantaged

SHANNON MONEO

Special to The Globe and Mail

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Last updated 

So, how are Canadian university business faculties accommodating students with high aims who don’t have deep pockets?

Greg Fleet, assistant dean at the University of New Brunswick’s faculty of business in Saint John, agrees that business schools need to step up efforts to ensure that a cross-section of students are being groomed as future chief executive officers and policy makers.

“It’s an interesting question. How do we go about it?” asks Dr. Fleet.

UNB staff have been visiting local high schools to recruit students for the business faculty. One advantage, Dr. Fleet has noted, is that high-school counsellors know their students’ backgrounds and needs, and are keen to find ways to get disadvantaged students into university.

The UNB’s business school has 25 faculty who teach roughly 500 undergrads and another 100 students in its MBA program. The smaller size means that professors get to know students and, like the local high schools, can identify and support underprivileged students.

“The other reality for our school, Saint John is a working class town,” Dr. Fleet says. So, within the catchment area, there’s a greater degree of lower-income households than other regions. Students from upper- and middle-class families often leave Saint John to study elsewhere, “because they can,” Dr. Fleet says.

About 50 per cent of the school’s first-year students are in the first generation of their family to attend university. “An amazing number compared to other parts of Canada, I’m sure,” Dr. Fleet says.

At Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, about 37 per cent of the 400 undergraduate students are first generation learners, says David Richards, assistant dean in the faculty of business administration.

To support first-generation, recent immigrant, as well as aboriginal students, the Thunder Bay university focuses on support services, such as an access program and supplementary math/business-writing classes for business students.

As well, first- and second-year business classes don’t exceed 60 students. “It’s very easy in smaller classes to identify students who are falling behind. We bring them up to standards,” says Bahram Dadgostar, dean of Lakehead’s business administration faculty. “We are known as a value-added university where we accommodate students.”

At Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C., the president believes that it’s crucial that classrooms represent society as a whole.

“Our population is made up of diverse groups so it’s extremely important that all segments are given the chance to succeed,” says Ralph Nilson.

VIU prides itself on the support it offers to disadvantaged students who are serious about their studies.

“We work hard externally to find ways and means so that everybody can come to school. We just don’t service the elite,” Dr. Nilson says.

VIU remains B.C.’s leading school for waiving tuition for adult students no longer in provincial foster care. For 2015, 43 of about 17,000 students got free tuition; five of those 43 students are in business programs, which have 1,385 students in the faculty of management, 660 in the bachelor of business program and 295 in the MBA program, Dr. Nilson says.

VIU has also formed a partnership with the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business to offer the Ch’Nook program, which since 2002 has worked to increase First Nations’ participation in postsecondary business studies.

In 2008, Sherry McCarthy became a VIU student, when she started the adult basic education program, which in 2008 became a free course in British Columbia.

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