By Kaleigh Rogers
The “victory lap” has recently been met with mixed reviews. A common practice for many secondary school students in Ontario—returning for a fifth year after graduation—scarcely happens in the rest of the country. After the fifth year was questioned in a recent provincial report, students and educators have expressed diverse views on whether or not this practice is a beneficial opportunity for students or just fiscally wasteful.
“When I first came to Ontario in 2004, people said, ‘Our kids aren’t mature enough to go to university after Grade 12,’ ” Ben Levin, the Canada research chair at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said.
“But, of course, they’re mature enough everywhere else in the world.”
Levin said this trend is a hangover from Ontario’s Grade 13, only truly phased out in 2003 with the end of the Ontario Academic Credit program. But recently, the practice of returning for a fifth year—whether to improve grades, pick up additional courses or in fact mature—has been questioned.
Earlier this month, economist Don Drummond released a list of commissioned recommendations on ways to rein in Ontario’s public spending. On the chopping block was the trend of students returning to high school after having already earned enough credits to graduate. According to the report, 14 per cent of Ontario students take a victory lap after graduating, costing the province money. Drummond recommended Ontario place a cap at 32 high school credits—two more than are required to graduate—and charge a fee for any additional credits, in order to curb the costs of students who decide to stick around.
According to Levin, the average cost of a year of secondary education in Ontario is $10,000. He said the costs of students returning for a fifth year after having already graduated outweigh the benefits.
“It’s clear to me that, given the choice, we ought to be using that money to help more kids graduate in the first place.”
But not everyone shares Levin’s outlook.
“It really depends on the path that students wish to take and sometimes they’re not exactly sure by Grade 11,” Karen Wilkinson, a superintendent with the Thames Valley District School Board, said.
The board includes 28 secondary schools across southwestern Ontario. There, the number of students returning for a fifth year after graduation is consistent with the rest of the province, sitting at around 13.5 per cent, according Wilkinson. She said she doesn’t necessarily see an extra year of school as a problem.
“I do think that it is appropriate for students in the system to have the opportunity to come back and take additional credits or upgrade marks or fit something different into their program that they hadn’t been able to fit in previous to that year.”
That’s what first-year Fanshawe College student Paige Twining did. She stayed back for a fifth year of high school in order to participate in the co-operative education program, where students get work placements to test out different fields.
Currently, she’s studying pre-health and hoping to advance into Fanshawe’s medical radiation technology program. Her co-op placement allowed her to work in the imaging department at her hometown hospital.
“Especially with the co-op, I’m glad that I took the victory lap,” Twining said. “I got more knowledge and reassurance of what I wanted to go away to school for.”
Still, the majority of Ontario students don’t opt to hang around after graduation—but it may catch up with them later.
Cassie Jorgenson, a student at Western University, started her post-secondary education after graduating from a fast-track program at a private high school in Hamilton. Combined with a fall birthday, Jorgensen found herself diving headfirst into university studies at the age of 16.
“I managed it fine because I had a lot of self-motivation to do work. Was it stressful? Yes, definitely,” she said, but added instead of a fifth year of high school, she ended up taking a fifth year of university.
“It was too hard. I felt very overwhelmed to finish my undergrad in four years, even though I could have with the amount of credits I had.”
But for Ben Levin, the bottom line remains: on a tight budget, the money spent on students who, for one reason or another, hang around after graduation could be better placed.
“It isn’t should we do this or not. It’s should we do this, or should we do something else with the money,” he said.
“It’s not that a fifth year is a bad thing. Many things are good things, but we don’t finance them.”