College strike halts courses for students without high school diplomas

The Ontario college strike isn't just creating problems for post-secondary students, but also those hoping to go to college — particularly those who never got high school diplomas.

'We're kind of up in the air,' says prospective Algonquin College nursing student

Jessi Morris says she's worried her conditional acceptance into Algonquin College's nursing program could be delayed because the province-wide college strike has brought her studies to a halt. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Jessi Morris thought she had everything planned out.

All she needed to begin studying nursing in January — seven years after dropping out of high school — was to finish the Grade 11 and 12 math and science course at Algonquin College this fall.

But now, she and a few dozen other prospective Algonquin students without high school diplomas aren't sure where they'll be next year.

The province-wide college staff strike has brought the all-day, four-days-a-week Preparation for Health Sciences course, part of Algonquin College's academic upgrading program, to a halt.

"And so we're not sure how this strike is going to affect us, if they're going to have to prolong our classes, which is then going to defer our acceptance," Morris said. "We're kind of up in the air."

Strike into second week

Last Monday, some 12,000 college staff across Ontario went on strike after their union and the province's College Employer Council failed to reach an agreement. 

The strike has affected roughly 500,000 students.

Striking teachers are asking for longer contracts for contract workers, an equal ratio of part-time and full-time teachers, and other wage and job security improvements. 

"Right now we are working on the assumption that these students will all be able to finish their courses before the January intake," said Ruth Dunley, a spokesperson for the school. 

"We have to evaluate the situation on a day-by-day basis. Their courses will resume when the work stoppage ends."

While she understands the reasons behind the strike, Morris said she'd also been eagerly looking forward to beginning the nursing program.

College faculty walk the picket line outside Algonquin College, in Ottawa on Monday, October 16, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

She said she realized nursing was her calling after surviving both a suicide attempt and a serious bicycle crash that left her with a traumatic brain injury.

"I've spent a lot of time in hospitals. I've spent a lot of time around nurses, good and bad. Mostly good. And so it's opened my eyes to [the fact it's a job] I could really make a difference in," Morris said.

"I really do love people. And I love people at their most vulnerable, because I know what it's like."

Could have to retake course

Along with nursing, the health sciences course also provides students with requirements for admission to other Algonquin College programs including dental hygiene, occupational therapy and physiotherapy assistant, and veterinary technician studies.

Morris said she now fears she'll have to retake the course in the new year, which could push back her acceptance into the nursing program until the fall of 2018. 

Students such as Jessi Morris who are trying to qualify for college programs are caught in the ongoing strike. 0:46

While her disability coverage will continue to cover her day-to-day expenses, she said she knows of classmates who've quit their jobs with the expectation they'd be studying full-time in 2018.

"The [academic upgrading] program is very successful in creating successful students for the nursing program. Which is why they've already conditionally accepted us," Morris said.

"However, if we don't have those prerequisites, we can't get into the program at all. There's nothing they can do."