I’ve managed to collect a few years of LBS data reports over the years, and have compiled what I have in order to see if there are any interesting trends. (I first did this here as part of a research project with AlphaPlus.) Categories in the reports include age, education levels, gender, employment status, source of income, and self-identified status as a person with a disability or an Indigenous person. It’s actually quite difficult for a researcher to access the reports. They aren’t publicly available through the government’s website for the LBS program. It’s also not apparent who I would ask to request the reports. I don’t have a complete collection yet, but I do have enough to put together a few charts and graphs that you may find interesting. In addition to the reports, I referred to a document produced by the now defunct Essential Skills Ontario in 2012 called Literacy and Essential Skills in Ontario.
Here is an overview of the number of learners in LBS for each year of the past decade.
There are a few things to look at here. I will start with the most noticeable: the big dip in 2012-2013. That is the first year that programs used a new database system for reporting purposes. It’s referred to as EOIS-CaMS or the Employment Ontario Information System and Case Management System. It’s a cumbersome mouthful. From what I understand, based on conversations with folks in the field (not from any analysis from the ministry that I could find), the dramatic drop from the previous year does not represent actual student numbers. A new system was introduced, adjustments were made to collect and enter the data, and the learning curve was steep. I have greyed this number to indicate that we really can’t consider it when looking at trends.
Before the big dip and the introduction of EOIS-CaMS, take a look at the total enrollment numbers and the steady increase in those numbers from 2005 to 2011 (for ease I will refer to the fiscal year using only the first year). There was a whopping 24% increase in the number of learners participating in LBS in a few short years.
A few important things happened during this time. First, was the recession of 2008 that led to layoffs. Particularly hard-hit were communities in southwestern Ontario with a more intensive manufacturing sector. Laid off workers enrolled in LBS programs to rekindle dormant, and often long forgotten, academic skills in order to gain a recognized credential at the secondary and postsecondary levels on their way, hopefully, to a new job. Soon after, the provincial government provided two years of additional core funding to programs. To justify the funding—which most programs were relieved to receive after years of status quo funding levels—programs had to show increased enrollment targets. They complied.
In addition, previous to 2008, programs in colleges were eligible for some additional funding to increase their enrollments in their high school equivalency program. I don’t have enough data yet to figure out how much this bolstered overall numbers.
The actual numbers from 2005 to 2011 and the peak of 60,055 learners may be slightly inflated due to some unintentional double entry of data. However, I don’t yet have the data to figure out what proportion of the totals is questionable. Regardless, the 24% increase over six years (or about 4% per year on average) is impressive.
Once people settled in with the new reporting system in 2013, total enrollments leveled out at the 43,000 level. There was however a slight 2% drop in 2015 compared to 2013 and a 4% drop from 2014 to 2015 (after an increase). Is this the beginning of a steady and slow decline? It’s too early to tell, particularly since there was that slight increase from 2013 to 2014.
So what can we walk away with after looking at this chart?
The years of steady enrollment increases came to an abrupt end once LBS was fully integrated into the Employment Ontario structure, and additional core funding was removed.
The levelling off of enrollment numbers at the 43,000 level is still below the level of 10 years ago. It’s tricky to compare these numbers though, since there may have been some double-counting, and the current numbers may be more accurate. Overall though, the gains made between 2005 and 2011 have disappeared.
Additional funding had a significant impact on enrollment numbers. With that funding, new classes were opened, hours were extended, outreach efforts and marketing were financed, new partnerships were developed and new learners were reached. Once the funding disappeared, the learners did too. What we don’t know is how the combined influence of funding and the economic downturn contributed to the increase. Could a yearly 4% increase in enrollment be repeated today and over the next few years if there was additional funding? It’s likely. Some of the conditions that existed 10 years ago are still with us. For example, recent PIAAC literacy results indicate that the proportion of adults at Level 1 or below, the group most likely to seek out a literacy program, has remained fairly steady over the years. On the other hand, more people in Ontario have postsecondary diplomas and degrees and fewer have high school or less. At the same time, the demands for all people to increase their literacy using digital technologies is rapidly increasing, and people are being left behind. Although more people have diplomas and degrees, literacy demands are ramping up and always changing.
We will definitely have to look closely at next year’s numbers to see if LBS is at the beginning of a downward trend as programs continue to receive status quo funding and grapple with the many reporting, testing and accountability challenges that have been introduced since being integrated into Employment Ontario within the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.
Note: If any readers in Ontario programs have archived reports, I’d love to connect with you so I can fill in the holes in my collection.