College Quarterly
Fall 2003 - Volume 6 Number 1


Access for Success: Ontario’s Accessibility Policies and the Consequences for Ontario College Students Between 1965 and 1995

by Catherine Drea, Ed.D.


"Access for Success" was a concept resulting from the Vision 2000 study of 1990 which reviewed the mandate of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAATs) (Vision 2000, 1990). The concept implied that accessibility to the CAATs must be more than an open door of admissions for students. It implied that student access to the CAATs had to be supported with the appropriate resources to help students succeed in their academic programs and in the workplace upon graduation.

This article addresses the barriers to success that students could face and it discusses the policies of the Ontario government that were implemented in an effort to reduce these barriers. It discusses the consequences of these policies for students and institutions and makes recommendations on institutional and governmental accountability for student success.


The CAATs have symbolized accessibility to postsecondary education since their inception (Dennison & Gallagher, 1986). The very nature of their mandate supports this notion. The legislation that established them indicated that the CAATs would support access for success in that they were to service the "educational needs of secondary school graduates not wishing to attend university and the educational needs of adults and out-of- school youth, whether or not they were secondary school graduates" (Vision 2000, 1990, p. 6-7). This mandate represented the idea that the CAATs would admit anyone not wishing to attend university. The legislation further stated that the new CAATs would offer a range of programming to meet the needs of all types of students not wishing to go to university. There would be academic programs, skills training programs and some academic upgrading programs. The legislated mandate of the CAATs implied that they would meet the wide ranging needs of students and that there would be an open door to admission, providing an equality of educational opportunity.

Measuring Accessibility to Postsecondary Education

In measuring accessibility, the most frequently employed index of educational opportunity at the postsecondary level is the participation rate (Anisef et al., 1985). In addition to participation rates, assumptions can be made about accessibility based on enrolment, the rate of tuition increases and the level of operating funding provided by the government.

In addition, the measurement of student attrition/retention is key to determining the level of student success (College Restructuring Steering Committee, 1995). In its report, the College Restructuring Steering Committee (1995:18) states: "In measuring and dealing with attrition, it is necessary to distinguish between those forms which should and can be remedied, and those forms for which it is not in the learner's or public interest to do so. At the same time, it is necessary to strike an appropriate balance between learner and institutional responsibilities. Institutions need to provide a supportive learning environment that can cope with diverse learner needs; that is, they must provide an "opportunity to succeed' "

What Constitutes Success?

Access for success implies that admission to the CAATs is the input and success in their program or graduation is the output. An accessible institution accepts students who have the potential to succeed and provides the necessary education and services to ensure that these students succeed and graduate. It could be viewed as an open door with clear pathways to graduation. The opposite to this is a "revolving door", where students leave the institution because they are unable to find the services and resources necessary for their success.

The Role of Government in Policy Development

The literature confirms that governments can reduce specific barriers to student access through policy implementation (Dennison, 1987). If we link the reduction of barriers to education, with the promotion of educational opportunity in society, we see a pivotal role for governments to play in developing policies for student success. As Anisef (1982) argues, it is ultimately the publicly-elected government bodies which can implement programs to achieve equality in society.

With this in mind, there are several policies that governments can implement to increase participation and student success in postsecondary education including policies relating to tuition, operational funding, financial aid and academic programming. The Ontario government could go a step further than some governments because it has direct control over the college system in the province with the CAATs being Scheduled Agencies of the Ontario government. They are subject to the financial planning and reporting systems as determined by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and they must adhere to the general management principles of the government. Many decisions are made on a system-wide basis and influenced by government (Stokes, 1988). Student success programs could be implemented system-wide, providing equality of opportunity on a province wide basis.

Discussion of Ontario Government Policies

Public Funding

A very important policy that has been consistent since 1965 is the public funding of the CAATs. This in itself is an accessibility policy (Jones, 1994; Hackl 1998). Analysis of the CAAT operating funding, as illustrated in Table 1, indicates that the operating grant by the Ontario government increased until 1993-1994 when it decreased by 7%. Closer analysis of the CAAT operating grant using constant dollars indicates that the government operating grant was decreased for the first time in 1977-1978. The CAATs were barely ten years old at that point. The Ontario government intended that the operating funding combined with tuition would allow the CAATs to operate without a deficit. Additional special grant funding is provided to institutions and may include capital funding, equipment funding and program-related funding (Drea, 2003).


The Ontario government sets policy for tuition fees in the CAATs. Stokes (1988) argues that governments directly affect accessibility through their tuition policies and that lower tuition fees constitute higher government investment, and, therefore, could be linked to a higher rate of student accessibility. As Table I indicates, tuition rose steadily from $175 in 1970-1971 to 1,108 in 1995-1996. Between 1970-1971 and 1972-1973, as the CAATs were being established across the province, tuition remained the same at $175 for all programs. Significant increases in tuition occurred in 1973-1974 with an increase of 49% from the previous year and in 1995-1996, with an increase of 20% from the previous year. The following table illustrates the increases in tuition and fluctuations in operating grant funding.

Table 1. Full-Time CAAT Tuition Rates and Operating Grants
from 1970 to 1996.
Year Tuition Fee Per Year Percentage Increase CAAT Operating Grant (in millions) CAAT Operating Grant (in constant dollars)* Percentage Increase
1970-1971 $175 0% Missing
1971-1972 $175 0% $92,166 $363,447
1972-1973 $175 0% $106,747 $388,678 6%
1973-1974 $260 49% $132,203 $433,078 11%
1974-1975 $260 0% $171,702 $509,740 17%
1975-1976 $295 15% $205,627 $573,013 12%
1976-1977 $295 0% $236,743 $607,853 6%
1977-1978 $370 25% $256,344 $606,062 -.5%
1978-1979 $370 0% $270,505 $584,044 -4%
1979-1980 $370 0% $293,035 $571,308 -2%
1980-1981 $400 0% $314,516 $545,056 -5%
1981-1982 $400 9% $351,472 $551,483 2%
1982-1983 $440 11% $396,056 $592,100 8%
1983-1984 $495 12% $431,109 $621,391 5%
1984-1985 $520 6% $455,590 $630,584 2%
1985-1986 $545 10% $506,081 $672,843 7%
1986-1987 $573 5% $596,706 $759,510 11%
1987-1988 $595 4% $621,915 $760,118 .3%
1988-1989 $620 5% $660,129 $766,483 .5%
1989-1990 $650 5% $700,400 $780,296 2%
1990-1991 $685 5% $771,500 $815,184 5%
1991-1992 $740 7% $826,900 $862,385 6%
1992-1993 $800 9% $868,400 $889,684 3%
1993-1994 $856 7% $808,200 $826,388 -7%
1994-1995 $916 7% $807,900 $807,900 -3%
1995-1996 $1,108 20% $809,200 $809,200 .2%
1996-1997 $1,275 15% $688,781 $688,781 -15%

Source: Tuition: Year 1967-1968 taken from circular #1 from The Ontario Council of Regents For Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology. August 5, 1966. Years 1968-1969 to 1996-1997 taken from George Brown College Calendars.

CAAT Operating Grant: Years 1971-1972 to 1996-1997 are adapted from Ministry of Colleges and Universities Statistical Summaries from 1971-1972 to 1996-1997.

* Constant dollars were used to show the real value of each year's funding (rounded) against the 1995 dollar. Bank of Canada calculation.

To reduce barriers for low-income students, financial aid is provided by both the federal government and the government of Ontario. The federal government has tried to address the impact of increased tuition fees on low-income students through its Canada Student Loan Program. The Ontario government administers this program through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). OSAP also includes Ontario-based loans and bursary programs. According to the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario (2000: 116), "graduates of the class of 1995 owed between 130% and 140% more to student loan programs than the class of 1982. Overall 46% of college graduates had borrowed from a student loan program, and on average owed $9,600.

Academic Barriers

The CAATs have never been funded to remediate or prepare those students who were admitted to programs without the necessary academic preparation. Some of the students admitted had graduated from secondary school but still were not academically prepared for college. The CAATs were dependent on their own resources when it came to finding ways to help these students be successful in college. There were two considerations. The first was addressing inconsistent curricula in Ontario's secondary schools which had become apparent in the 1970's (Drea, 2003). The second was finding the resources to assist these students once they were admitted to programs. Dance (1989) noted that the CAATs had been funding remedial services out of their general operating revenues.

According to the 1983 data contained in the report of the College Restructuring Steering Committee (1995:19), males were 40% more likely to withdraw from the CAATs than females and those attending larger colleges were about 10% more likely to withdraw than students attending smaller colleges. In addition, the report noted that those who had not completed Grade 13 were 39% more likely to withdraw, implying that the admission standards had risen to a Grade 13 entrance by 1983. In addition, the College Restructuring Steering Committee (1995:18) reported that about 25% of the students who enroll in one year programs do not complete their programs and that about 45% of the students who enroll in two and three year programs do not complete them. The first six weeks of attendance are critical.

In the early 1990's the federal government withdrew its funding for academic and skills training. It became more difficult to find ways to fund remedial programs and the funding that once flowed through the CAATs to serve youth, the academically under prepared and other disadvantaged groups had ended. The colleges had become increasingly diverse in terms of the populations that they served and, at the same time, funding was being decreased.

Physical Barriers

With respect to increasing diversity, the Employment Equity Act was passed in 1986 and the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) was formed. Institutions requested capital funding from the Ontario government to create barrier-free facilities for students with disabilities (Drea, 2003). In 1993, NEADS commissioned the Study of Financial Assistance Available to Post-Secondary Students With Disabilities (Hubka & Killean, 1993). This Canadian-based study documented the educational and living expenses of 384 university and college students with disabilities and analyzed the extent to which federal and provincial government financial assistance programs met their expenses. The study included a statistical analysis of disabled students' financial situation and how this related to available government funding. It found that 44% of disabled post-secondary students had insufficient funds to cover education-related services and/or equipment costs and that they faced serious financial barriers. In addition, these students faced physical barriers in terms of physical plant restrictions.

The Consequences of Government Policies

There are several consequences for students and the CAATs of the Ontario government policies on accessibility from 1965 to 1995. These include an increasing participation rate, fewer remedial programs for the under prepared student, high levels of attrition, decreased funding to institutions, institutional deficits, increased dependency on fundraising, institutional/industry partnerships and increasing tuition fees.

In terms of the participation rate of people eligible to attend the CAATs, it has increased steadily over the years, except for a decrease of 1% in 1989-1990. This steady increase would indicate that the government's accessibility policies were maintained at the aggregate level.

Table 2 illustrates the increase in participation rate.

Table 2. Full-Time CAAT Enrolment and Participation
from 1970 to 1996.
Year Participation Rate Year Participation Rate
1970-1971 Not available 1983-1984 11%
1971-1972 Not available 1984-1985 11%
1972-1973 Not available 1985-1986 12%
1973-1974 Not available 1986-1987 12%
1974-1975 Not available 1987-1988 12%
1975-1976 8% 1988-1989 12%
1976-1977 8% 1989-1990 11%
1977-1978 8% 1990-1991 12%
1978-1979 9% 1991-1992 13%
1979-1980 9% 1992-1993 13%
1980-1981 9% 1993-1994 14%
1981-1982 10% 1994-1995 14%
1982-1983 11% 1995-1996 15%

Source: Enrolment: Years 1971-1972 to 1989-1990 are adapted from Ministry of Colleges and Universities Statistical Summaries from 1971-1972 to 1989-1990. Enrolment: Years 1990-1991 to 1995-1996 from ACAATO Environmental Scan 2002.

Participation Rate as Proportion of Population Aged 18-24 years from Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey. December 4, 1998

However, as noted above, there was a level of attrition between 1976 and 1984 that would indicate that there was a revolving door in the CAATs at that time. Students were either not academically prepared for their college programs and/or they were not provided with the opportunities for remediation. As Dance (1990) notes, a revolving door is a wasteful use of resources for students and for society. Further, there is evidence to suggest that students who had not completed Grade 13 were 39% more likely to withdraw from their program than those who had completed Grade 13. This is important because Grade 12 is the level of achievement for admission to CAAT programs.

The operating funding cutbacks which began in the 1970's reached new lows in the 1990's. A serious recession in the province resulted in government implementing policies to reduce operating funding and to increase tuition (Drea, 2003). These funding cutbacks led to competition among the CAATs, more dependency on fundraising and institutions running deficits to maintain accessibility. On the positive side, the funding cutbacks increased the incentive to form partnerships between industry and the CAATs for the sharing of equipment and the training of employees.

The cutbacks in operating funding forced institutions to raise tuition. It was reported earlier in this article that the graduates of the class of 1995 owed between 130% and 140% more to student loan programs than their counterparts thirteen years prior. Student debt is a growing issue and is directly linked to tuition policies.


In conclusion, the Ontario government policies from 1965 to 1995 focused on admitting students into the CAATs in the form of a modified open door admission policy but did not address student success. The CAATs have struggled with their original mandate to openly admit students from all academic backgrounds. Between 1965 and 1995, students have faced many barriers including financial, academic and physical. Student aid programs have been available and, as a result, student debt continues to increase.

The operating funding provided to the institutions reflected the policy that institutions should meet some of the needs of their diverse learners but that the responsibility is on the learner to be academically prepared. This might have contributed to the high rates of attrition in the late 1970's and early 1980s.

The demand for an Ontario college education continues to grow at the same time as government funding decreases. There needs to be more focus on the services and resources that support student success and the institution should assume more responsibility for student success and should be funded accordingly. Freshman students should be assessed during the first six weeks of attendance and provided with the appropriate resources for their success. These resources could include financial assistance, personal and academic counseling, career counseling and academic success skills. Student success should be a funding priority for the government and the CAATs should be accountable on how remediation funding is used.


Anisef, P., Bertrand, M.A., U. Hortian, & James, C. (1985). Accessibility to Postsecondary Education in Canada: A Review of the Literature. Ottawa: Canada Secretary of State.

Anisef, P. (1982). The Pursuit of Equality: Evaluating and Monitoring Accessibility to Postsecondary Education in Ontario. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education.

College Restructuring Steering Committee. (1995). Final Report of the College Restructuring Committee. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

Dance, T. (1990). Accessibility and Quality: Preparatory and Remedial Education in the Colleges. Vision 2000 Study Background Paper. Challenges to the College and the College System. Study Team 4. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents. 1990.

Dennison, J.D. (1987). Colleges and Governments - An Evolving Relationship: Government Intervention into the Operations of Community Colleges in Canada, 1964-1986. " In Governments and Higher Education: The Legitimacy of Intervention. C. Watson (Ed.). Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Dennison, J.D., and Gallagher, P. Canada's Community Colleges: A Critical Analysis. Vancouver: University of British Colombia Press. 1986.

Drea, C. (2003). Ontario Government Policy On Accessibility to the Colleges Of Applied Arts And Technology: 1965-1995. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto.

Jones, G.A. (1994). Higher Education Policy in Ontario. In Higher Education Policy: An International Comparative Perspective. L. Goedegebuure, F. Kaiser, P. Maassen, L. Meek, F. van Vught, & E. de Weert (Eds.). New York: Pergamon Press.

Hackl, E. (1998). Higher Education in Canada: Opportunities or Strategy?" Higher Education Review, Vol. 3 1, No. 1.

Hubka, D. and Killean, E.(1993). Employment Opportunities For Post-Secondary Students and Graduates With Disabilities: A National Study. Ottawa: Secretary of State.

Oppenheimer, J. (1989). The Relationships Between Schools and Colleges. Colleges and the Educational Spectrum - Colleges and Schools. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

Stokes, N. (1988). Tuition Increases: Their Impact on Accessibility and Equity. In Readings in Canadian Higher Education. C. Watson, (Ed.). Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. pp.28-47.

Vision 2000. Quality and Opportunity. (1990). A Review of the Mandate of Ontario's Colleges. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

Catherine Drea, Ed.D. was the Dean of Continuous Learning at Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario at the time of the writing of this article. As of October 2003 she is the Director, Centre for Professional Development at Seneca College. She can be reached at or (416) 491-5050


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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