Silence on the Western Front:
BY WENDY BURTON
Access to post-secondary education for women in British Columbia entered a new phase with the advent of the regional (or community) college system, begun in the late 60s. By 1978, 21 community colleges had been established with the express aim to improve access for those students who had been traditionally barred from pursuing university education: women visible minorities and those whose incomes or economic status did not allow for fees and the expenses of living four or five years without a pay cheque.
At the same time, the Canada Student Loan program was extended to the college system and a safety net of in-house bursaries and emergency loans was implemented in the hopes that more than a narrow percentage of middle and upper middle class students (mostly men) would achieve some level of post-secondary education. As of today, the system has endured several years of what is locally referred to as restraint, not to mention that B.C. has one of the lowest per capita expenditures on education in Canada. What has been the situation of women and their access to community colleges in the last ten years?
Ten years ago, women were identified as a target group for affirmative action in the college system. Grim statistics, gathered in the first decade of the community college system, indicated that the same demographic profile was found in colleges as was well established in universities, except that the students were older. They were still white, male, Christian, and of English or European family origin. Many career programs, admittedly the track for students wishing to get in on the economic boom in B.C., had few women present; the enrollment in what were called non-traditional occupations was almost exactly what it had been for several generations.
Women were not found in welding or carpentry programs (with the exception of a parts counterman) but were instead clustered in the traditional pink collar ghettoes of secretary, daycare worker, nurse's aide and key punch operators. The government was forced, by several embarrassingly high profile reports to parliament and numerous presentations to the Ministry of Labour, to announce a plan for improvement of women's access to post-secondary education in the college system.