Investing in education for low-income adults pays off

February 1, 2006

(Vancouver) The province must invest in education programs for low-income adults with upgrading needs if it wants achieve its goal of making BC the best-educated and most literate jurisdiction in North America.

Shauna Butterwick, an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at UBC, is the author of “A Path out of Poverty: Helping Low-Income Adults Upgrade Their Education,” released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The study calls on the provincial government to:

  • Restore tuition-free Adult Basic Education (upgrading for those who haven’t completed high school) at BC’s public colleges;
  • Change welfare rules so recipients can participate in upgrading, literacy, and English as a Second Language programs without losing their income assistance benefits;
  • Restore and increase targeted funding to post-secondary institutions to support income assistance recipients who participate in these programs;
  • Support colleges and institutes in meeting the specific education needs of adults who have experienced long-term poverty.

“The province has acknowledged the links between poverty, unemployment and low levels of education and literacy,” says Butterwick. “These are four inexpensive solutions that will create a path out of poverty for thousands of British Columbians and their families.”

Butterwick says BC has recent experience with an innovative and cost-effective model for delivering education programs to low-income adults. Between 1996 and 2002, the province funded college-based upgrading, literacy and ESL programs for income assistance recipients with multiple barriers to employment. “The programs were very successful. They used holistic supports — including personal skills training, counseling, advocacy and job placement help — that allowed people to graduate with post-secondary credentials and find jobs that paid a living wage.”

In 2000/01, BC’s public colleges and institutes received $4.2 million in provincial funding and served approximately 20,000 people on income assistance. “That’s a lot of benefit for minimal cost,” says Butterwick. “Graduates reported that recognition by employers of a public, post-secondary education credential was a key part of their success.”

Cindy Oliver, President of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC, says college teachers want to see these kinds of opportunities restored and enhanced. “Adult Basic Education is a right and a building block. If we don’t make it accessible to everyone who wants to complete their high school education, we cut off an avenue to employment, as well as to further educational opportunities like vocational training and university transfer programs.”


“A Path out of Poverty: Helping Low-Income Adults Upgrade Their Education” is part of the Economic Security Project, a joint research initiative of the CCPA and Simon Fraser University, funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

To arrange an interview, call Shannon Daub at 604-801-5121 x226.