Older students need not apply?

Despite what an administrator says, a Queen’s-Trent program appears to only be open to students coming directly from high school


I recently got some mail from a returning student who is rather upset that a program he wishes to pursue – the Queen’s-Trent Concurrent Education Program – is apparently now only available to high school students. This caught my attention. By now anyone who reads my blog will know I think there’s great value in taking some time off school. That’s not for everyone, of course, but it needs to be a valid choice. I am automatically opposed to anything that punishes students merely for taking time off school.

Now, I spoke to someone from that program. I can’t say who because this person didn’t want to go on record. Fair enough. This administrator insists the program is in fact open to older students and there’s simply a restriction on the number of transfer credits they’ll accept – or in other words how far along a student can be in their studies before beginning. That’s reasonable. Some programs are just so substantial that beyond a certain point you can’t start them properly. That sounded awfully good on the phone, especially when I heard about all the older students who are apparently in the program and those who had some prior post-secondary experience. I resolved to write a positive blog about what turned out to not be true.

I’m looking at the website for the program again. I’ll invite my readers here to interpret this quotation for yourselves. “Candidates with post-secondary courses (ie community college or another University), normally considered for transfer with advanced standing, are not eligible for admission to this program. This is a high school entry program.” To me, this unambiguously states that anyone with prior post-secondary experience is simply not eligible to apply. The one exception is 15 spots they hold for Trent students exclusively, who can apply after first year. Beyond that, I’m frankly not sure if older students who have no post-secondary experience but took time off after high school are eligible to apply. I can read this both ways. If I were in that boat, it would be enough to deter me, anyway.

I think this kind of message is awful for two reasons. First, some students simply aren’t ready to attend university right away. They shouldn’t feel pressured into doing so for fear of losing this or that opportunity, award, or support. Second, when a student is ready to return, it’s already complicated and daunting enough. There’s no need to make a student feel like he or she somehow messed up, and lost this great opportunity, right at the time when that student should be most excited about returning to school. Policies of this sort are just a losing proposition all around.

I’d love some feedback from readers along these lines. Give me your stories about programs and policies that seem designed to punish students who don’t approach education in the “right” way. I’m especially interested in anything that’s only available to students exiting high school but not to older students. Of course some programs are not very forgiving about spotty track records, and it’s true some programs are very competitive, but give me those examples where it isn’t your grades that count against you but simply what you did or didn’t do at the right time and in the right order.

I’ll admit that I’m not well equipped to do serious investigative reporting here. But if it sounds like a story I’ll at least pick up the phone. Tell me about the policy that upsets you and maybe I’ll embarrass your institution for you.

Oh, and one more thing. The Queens-Trent Concurrent Education program looks like a great opportunity for anyone who wants to enter teaching. But their website looks like it was designed by a twelve year-old in 1995. That cheap shot is just for hacking on older students.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.

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Older students need not apply?

  1. I interpret the messaging the same way – mature students do not appear welcome to join. This is both a baffling and troubling policy. The Queen’s-Trent Concurrent Education Program should take a page from most other institutions offering a similar program – adult learners are both welcome and encouraged to join. Older student teachers have a lot of experience to help them with their studies AND to help facilitate them becoming excellent teachers. There are many such mature students in York’s concurrent and consecutive education programs. If Queen’s-Trent’s policy is indeed inclusive, then their message is inaccurate and should be changed. If it is accurate, they should really re-think their policies regarding mature students. Trent was reported in June to be rolling back their education programs for the fall. Looks more like they are employing ageism in their criteria. And yes, their program website does look rather juvenile.

    Edward Fenner
    Founder, YUMSO@YorkU
    Your University Mature Students Organization at YorkU
    Read my mature student blog on Academica.ca http://academica.ca/node/5201

  2. I call lack of attention to wording on the website, and not being hip to the increased acceptance of gap years and mature students.

    I’ve typically found that “out of high school” means “out of high school level education.” Looking at the care and attention (or lack thereof) to the visuals of that website, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were similarly being a little sloppy with the language on the page. I’d be really surprised if a student could not apply to this program after a gap year, for example, or after extended time away from school.

    I can see justification for students with a certain number of university courses (or transfer credits from college) being asked to simply continue with their degree and take the consecutive program at the end of their BA or BSc. Their program doesn’t look like it’s set up to handle someone with too many prior credits: not even a full credit per year of education courses until the final year that is almost exclusively education courses. (Not that much different from consecutive anyway, in fact.) If you have too many “academic” courses under your belt, you simply might have trouble maintaining full-time status on this schedule. This would then create issues with student loans, tax returns etc.

    Given that Trent offers a unique “early conditional acceptance” to the consecutive program from their undergrad, and given that more than half of this concurrent program occurs in the fifth year anyway, as long as they aren’t in fact discriminating against older applicants with the same level of “high-school only” education, then it would seem like Trent applicants still have a pretty good option for getting an education degree.

    And, it’s worth noting that while Trent has its own consecutive program, the concurrent is a joint program with a university that does have their own concurrent program. I’m sure admission requirements are coming from the big Q, whom I’ve often found to be . . . “decidedly unique” in their admissions policies where non-traditional students are concerned. In this context, I’m not surprised at the “traditional” wording at all.

  3. When I read “Candidates with post-secondary courses (ie community college or another University), normally considered for transfer with advanced standing, are not eligible for admission to this program”, it sounds like those candidates are qualified out.

    That’s discriminatory.

    It’d be one thing if they told candidates with post-secondary courses that they won’t get any transfer credit. It’s quite another to say that such candidates can’t be admitted, even if they accept to start over again.

    Queen’s/Trent should clarify which one they mean.

  4. Here is a situation where I feel that it may not be justifiable that an adult be admitted into a program.

    In this time when Ontario is experiencing a major doctor shortage, would it be right to admit a 50 year old adult into a medical school program? Assuming that the student completes medical school in the allotted time of 4 years and is issued a license to practice, the doctor might only get 6-16 years of practice in before she/he retires.

    I believe that it would be more beneficial for that seat to be given to a candidate with a younger age. Admitting a 25 year old student would yield 25 more years of practice compared with the 50 year old student.

    I am not sure the full spectrum of ages of candidates who apply to medical school but I wonder if this is actually a deterrent to the medical school selection panel?

  5. It is definitely unfair and discriminatory. However, with the teacher shortage in Ontario, is it possible that they are trying to taper off the excessive amount of people applying to teacher education programs?

  6. Hi all

    I like that this topic has been in slow simmer mode for a while. I think there’s some room to delve here, as there are a lot of diverse opinions. I intend to write more in the future on the subject, but for now a few replies.

    To Edward – Yeah, I’m as much concerned about messaging as their practices in, well, practice. How you present a program heavily determines who applies. No matter how you evaluate the applicants after that point, your policies have already had a strong impact on who ends up in the program by the end.

    To Sarah – You’re bang on with the Queen’s suspicion. The admissions policies are definitely being driven by Queen’s (I have that from the administrator I spoke with), and I may do a bit of digging at Queen’s generally.

    To Serge – You make a good distinction. There’s a difference between limiting the number of transfer credits that may be applied and outright disallowing application from those who would otherwise have transfer credits. The first policy is easy enough to defend, for a robust program. The later is much more questionable.

    To Josh – You’re getting at a point here, but a dangerous one. Essentially, you are making the case for “justifiable” discrimination. Older people will work fewer years. Sure. And women might get pregnant and take time off work. And those with physical impairments may only be able to put in part-time hours. The list goes on. Are you sure you want to start disqualifying people on these bases? Are you confident you know where it will end?

    To Ris – I think you may be right, but I’d simplify even further. When a program has a surplus of applicants they have very little incentive to look at anyone who seems a bit unusual. Plenty of “normal” applicants in the pool, who don’t require any extra thought or effort to evaluate. That thinking will exclude many non-traditional students from the mix, and not only older ones. I’ve seen it before and it’s always unfortunate.

  7. If I may reply to Josh: I’m a 39-year old medical student, and I’ve asked myself the same question. Did I displace a younger applicant who could have offered more person-years of service, and if so, did my Faculty do society a disservice by admitting me? I think Mr. Rybak raises a good point about where one draws the line about who should be excluded. I would add some other thoughts. One is that my past experience may have direct relevance to what specialty I choose. I’m not just older – I also have more experience. I may be able to do certain things better than a younger colleague, and I may also choose to work in one of the underserved specialties like psychiatry or family medicine, because I’m not really up to learning neurosurgery at this point in my life. In a nutshell, I would suggest considering not only the number of person-years I can contribute to society: but also whether society can benefit from the particular skills I offer.

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