When Bill Gough attended high school in his hometown of Madoc, Ont., only 13 of the 250 classmates that he began high school with headed off to university.
When he returned for his high-school graduation, two of those classmates knew they would not be able to attend a second semester.
“There was zero support or no identification that you might have certain needs because you come from a rural community,” says Gough, vice-principal academic and dean of U of T Scarborough.
Gough established the Regional Residence Bursary which launched last year, to address some of these needs. The program aims to increase enrollment of students living in areas that are more than 50 kilometres away from a post-secondary institution.
Data shows that the farther someone lives from a post-secondary institution, the less likely they are to attend. Gough says that when universities build their recruitment plans, they tend not to think about this group of students.
In Scarborough and Durham regions, 25 per cent of each population have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In the Eastern Ontario region of Hastings-Lennox and Addington where Gough is from, that number drops to 11 per cent. That area was one of two focus locations, the other was Bluewater District School Board in Southwestern Ontario.
“For an Ontarian that has to move from home, there is an additional expense of living elsewhere, there is a social disconnect,” Gough says.
He says the bursary aims to take a more holistic approach in what is often a students’ first time living away from home. The bursary covers 50 per cent of the residence fees associated with living in the campus’ townhouse-style accommodations. Facilitating living on campus aims to tackle the feeling of isolation in students’ new surroundings, provide a “stable location to live” and establish social community in their first year of being away from home.
“We want to enable students to overcome that particular barrier,” Gough says.
Amy Vieira, a first-year paramedicine student, is the first student to receive the bursary.
With family in Toronto and a familiarity with the city, choosing to come to Scarborough wasn’t necessarily a hard decision.
But, with all surrounding universities at least an hour away, the Belleville native had to consider living expenses and transit as top factors in choosing a university.
“I didn’t bring a car with me and now I have to figure out using transit,” Vieira says. “The bursary would help a lot with that, as well as residence.” She is also a member of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s soccer team and travels downtown for practice most days of the week.
Last year, Gough worked with principals, while Student Recruitment worked with guidance counsellors, in visiting schools to introduce the bursary. Gough also spoke at his old high school.
Recruitment typically starts with the Grade 10 curriculum to introduce post-secondary options and answer the question of “why university?” Students are presented with the benefits of choosing a post-secondary education, such as opening career paths.
“We get them to start feeling more comfortable with university,” says Shelby Verboven, Associate Registrar and Director of Admissions & Student Recruitment. “We want to talk to students about the value of a university education and how they can get there.”
What’s different about recruitment in areas outside of the catchment area is bringing parents into the conversation, such as what it is like to send a child away to university and financials.
Gough hopes to connect with students and their parents earlier in high school so that they see university as an option from the beginning. And that’s regardless of what school they end up choosing.
“We know that our very presence might encourage students to go to other universities,” Gough says. “But I don’t see that as a negative.”