All willing and qualified individuals should be able to participate in post-secondary education, regardless of their age. While many underrepresented groups face various barriers in pursuing a post-secondary education, mature students face very unique financial, personal and social barriers to pursuing a post-secondary education. The Ontario University Application Centre defines a mature or adult student as an applicant who has not completed the normal academic requirements for admission to the university but who conforms to a specific age and/or work experience requirement stipulated by the university. Beyond that simple interpretation, mature students are a diverse group that can include delayed traditional students, single parents, individuals climbing the corporate ladder, those looking to change occupations, and those seeking personal growth and development. It was with this diversity in mind that OUSA authors crafted the Mature Students Policy Paper, and we made efforts to ensure that the concerns we address represent the distinct but varied needs of mature students in Ontario.

Currently, OSAP guidelines make it very difficult for mature students who are married or in a common-law relationship to qualify for adequate financial assistance; this inadequacy is compounded by couples with children. With the demands of balancing both a full-course load and parenthood, it is unlikely that a mature student in this situation would be able to even work part-time to make up for the financial gaps in OSAP’s living allowance while pursuing a post-secondary education, paying for housing, food and childcare.  Ontario students are not eligible for OSAP if they are enrolled part-time. By taking a lighter course load, part-time students are assumed to have more time to work and earn income, reducing their need for additional financial assistance. However, this assumes that part-time learners earn sufficient income to support themselves and any dependants, as well as pay for their tuition and other educational costs.  This criterion of OSAP is particularly detrimental for low-income mature students as a large proportion of Ontario universities make it mandatory for students who are admitted under the “mature student criteria” to be enrolled in part-time studies until they have demonstrated they are capable of meeting certain academic criteria decided by each university.

By not qualifying part-time learners for OSAP, the government also bars them from other resources: this distinction also prevents these mature students from accessing numerous other forms of needs-based assistance, including work-study programs, as well as many scholarships and bursaries. Furthermore, as mature students may temporarily suspended their education due to time and financial constraints, it is often the case that mature students find themselves outside of some or all of the ‘time from high school’ criteria of the 30% off Ontario Tuition Grant while still fitting the other eligibility measures.

Our paper also makes recommendations about the on-campus experiences of mature students. Particularly, there is a wealth of research that indicates that “adult learners” (that is to say, students who have pursued other experiences or spent time in the workforce after secondary education) have different methods of learning and processing information than their university-aged peers. Broadening methods of instruction to include “andragogy” (the teaching of adults) in cohesion with more typical pedagogical methods could greatly benefit all students in the classroom. Improving other facets of on-campus services- access to flexible service hours and adequate childcare, for example- has the capacity to greatly improve the participation of mature students.

Strong policies that address mature students are increasingly relevant and necessary. Student populations in Ontario are changing, with more mature students than ever before choosing career and educational pathways other than direct entry to university from high school. After nearly a decade of steady growth in the number of high school students applying to universities in Ontario, university applications from high school students declined not only in Ontario, but in every other province as well. Given that individuals under 25 already have relatively high post-secondary attainment rates, part of fulfilling the Province’s goal of raising attainment rates to 70 percent for all Ontarians by 2020 must come through the creation of a post-secondary education system that is accessible to a broader demographic of learners including mature students. Going forward, the Province must ensure people of all ages can access post-secondary education in developing a future workforce that is flexible and responsive to changing labour market dynamics; we hope that some of the recommendations outlined in this policy paper can increase both access to education for mature students and the quality of education those students receive.

To read the Mature Students Policy Brief, click here

To read the Mature Students Policy Paper in full, click here