Thriving in the community education graveyard
But 16 out of the former 20 providers of Adult Community Education (ACE) have closed their night classes.
Surprisingly, Wellington High School’s adult programme has survived and attendance is skyrocketing.
Theirs has successfully evolved into a ‘user-pays’ model, and coordinator Colin Wharton puts the growth down to hard work, the central city location, and because there are now only four ACE providers left in the region.
Wharton says the government’s decision to cut ACE funding from $16 million to just $3 million last year was flawed.
“I can’t say the [increased] numbers vindicate the change in funding because the changes the government made were not a wise decision.”
He says ACE providers are working harder, with less, to keep up with increased demand. Language courses, historically the college’s most popular, have jumped in price from $96 to $145 to compensate for cuts.
“Many schools say they can’t to do it without government funding so it’s a privileged place we are in,” says Wharton.
The four ACE college survivors, Wellington High School, Newlands College, Tawa, and Johnsonville have successfully moved into the new largely self-funded environment.
Despite its success, the Wellington High School programme had to cut $85,000 in grants it used to offer to 24 community organisations, such as Wellington Women’s Refuge and Aro Valley Community Centre.
Its 2010 programme includes 924 courses delivered by 146 tutors, and total pupil numbers are expected to exceed 5,000 by year end.
Courses growing in popularity are Zumba dance, Xero accounting, Ukelele, Photography and Te Reo.
“We have got the mix right and this first term has been the biggest since 2005 – heck the car park is full every night,” he says.
Wharton says the courses offer a stepping stone to higher education, and allow people with no formal qualifications to gain experience necessary to qualify for university.
The loss of ACE in lower socio-economic areas spoils Wharton’s enthusiasm over the growing numbers in the city.
Bustling night classes used to be the norm across the region, says former Hutt Valley High School ACE coordinator Claire Farrelly, but now classrooms lie dormant.
“For the people of the Hutt Valley there is now no school based programme running.”
Hutt Valley High, Wainuiomata, Heretaunga, Naenae, and Upper Hutt colleges have all closed their courses.
To keep the Hutt Valley High programme running Farrelly calculated she would need to triple course fees. Wellington High School already had higher fees so the increase was not such a shock, she says.
“Children of parents with no formal qualifications were benefiting too. It has a massive social benefit when those parents learn about things like computers.”
She says the communities most in need are missing out as the skills people developed in the ACE training programmes are lost.
She mentions a 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers report which states: “The economic benefit of the adult and community education sector is between $4.8 and $6.3 billion annually. This is a return on investment of $54 - $72 for each dollar of funding”.
“For a lot of adults it is the first foray back into education and heaps of anecdotal evidence shows those people go onto other things. It gave people confidence to carry on,” she says.
Colin Wharton agrees, and says of the 212 school-based ACE programmes before the cuts, perhaps 50 or fewer may survive this year.
“We know that our user-pays programme, with often much higher fees, will put learning opportunities out of the reach of many of the less well-off in our community. Will our courses only be affordable by the rich, while those with real need are excluded?”