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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Double cohort just the first hurdle

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to The Toronto Sun

Jonathan Bitran is a double cohort statistic -- in the postive sense of the word. He's one of the majority of Ontario high school students who got into the post-secondary institution of their choice. In September, Bitran will move into residence at the University of Western Ontario to study the sciences.

"I'm looking forward to it a lot," says the 18-year-old.
University-bound Jonathan Bitran is happy to have beaten the double-cohort crunch.

Bitran's 90% grade average was high enough that he didn't need to be overly concerned about getting caught in the double cohort crunch. But with all the public discourse on the matter over the last couple of years -- including monthly "Double Cohort" information sessions at his high school -- Bitran made sure to cover all his bases.

Overall, he applied to 17 different university programs at 10 different schools, spending more than $400 on applications.

"I definitely applied to more schools than I would have otherwise," says the graduate of the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.

Bitran is, in fact, one of a record number of 72,000 Ontario high school students who, despite stiffer competition, were able to get into the university of their choice.

Last Thursday, the provincial government reported that this figure represents a 68% registration rate of the more than 102,000 students who applied to Ontario universities -- in keeping with the historical average of 65% to 70%. In total, 45.6% more students accepted spots at universities than last year.

Ontario community colleges experienced a 3% increase in enrolment, with 78,500 students accepting spots.

"Together, we have successfully reached our goal of providing every willing and qualified student with the same opportunities as their older brothers and sisters," said Dianne Cunningham, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The government invested $1.7 billion to build 35 new facilities, including the new University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Durham Region.

The University of Toronto built three new residences at its various campuses and bought the Colony Hotel next to City Hall to accommodate more than 1,800 new students; Centennial College will open a new campus that will hold 3,000 students; Carleton University in Ottawa is renting five floors of an Ottawa Travelodge Hotel; two portable classrooms have been added to McMaster University in Hamilton, and Ryerson University is renting movie theatres in downtown Toronto to accommodate overflow lectures.

Yet some say the initiatives do not go far enough.

"The investment to date is a start, but it will still be a major challenge for universities to accommodate students in the next few years," says Leslie Church, executive director of the Undergraduate Student Alliance of Ontario.

She says post-secondary students will still experience the effects of overcrowding.

"They can expect overcrowded classrooms and lineups," she says. "Students may have problems getting the course they want. It may also be a challenge for them to get into graduate and professional programs."

In fact, the double cohort may be just the first hurdle the province's post-secondary infrastructure will face over the next decade.

A study by the Ontario Council of Universities shows that, since 1999, the 18 to 24-year-old demographic has been growing, and will continue to do so in Ontario, increasing 22% by 2014. The GTA is expected to experience the most growth -- about 34%.

Cunningham says schools will receive an additional $75 million this coming school year to invest in hiring more instructors, more library books and more evening and even weekend classes. The money is part of a $400 million fund that will be distributed in its entirety by 2006-07.

Jonathan Bitran, who wants to be a lawyer in the high tech/sciences area, is glad he beat the double cohort squeeze, but isn't sure what lies ahead.

"I think up until now, enough has been done to address the double cohort problem," he says. "It remains to be seen how it continues on from here."

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