Aboriginal higher learner success factors at vancouver community college

Scope and Limitations of the Research

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Scope and Limitations of the Research

This research project has sought to explore issues and strategies that support Aboriginal higher learner success at VCC. Limitations of this research included the number of Aboriginal learners who due to class schedules were unable to stay for the full focus group and sign consent forms. In addition, due to the lower number of classes occurring over the summer months, there were fewer Aboriginal learners. This research focused upon Aboriginal learners participating in Aboriginal health programs, culinary programs, and upgrading courses and does not represent all Aboriginal learners within VCC or other post-secondary institutes. Also, despite the recommended focus group time parameters, learners could have benefited from more time at focus groups to fully explore the issues and to engage the large list of potential leaders who could inform this research. Finally, scheduling for interview participants was undertaken in July, which was difficult as many senior leaders were on holidays. The study findings presented in this chapter are limited to the senior leadership who participated and do not represent all leaders at all levels within the VCC.

Interpretation of the data findings is based on the researcher’s epistemology in categorizing the raw data. As a First Nations researcher, my approach was grounded in an indigenous relational research approach in the choice of research, methodology, data collection, analysis, and presentation of information, and was based upon the theory of Tswalk. According to Barker (2010),

All human beings have paradigms that influence the way we see the world and we all constantly select that data that fits our rules and try to ignore the rest. As a result what may be perfectly obvious for to a person with one paradigm may be totally imperceptible with another paradigm.


The findings from this research have indicated that Aboriginal learners at VCC have different values, beliefs, worldviews, needs, interests, and ways of knowing that are not the same as the Euro-US-centric post-secondary education paradigm that makes up the current homogenous higher education system (Milem, in press, p. 31). The resulting marginalization was compounded by the under representations of Aboriginal employees within VCC, which, according to focus group participants, negatively affects the capacity of VCC to serve Aboriginal learners effectively. Resolving this issue within the public post-secondary system will require a deep level of commitment from the entire college, using multiple level strategies over time. Finally, it was very disheartening to find out how deep and pervasive racism still is within the student body, particularly when the world is witness to unprecedented levels of diversity.

The recommendations arising from the literature review and research findings are outlined in this chapter. It is important to note that VCC is currently in significant transition with a new leadership model and emerging strategic plan that creates great leadership opportunities. The recommendations include: (a) identify Aboriginally defined indicators of success that VCC can be used to guide planning and measure progress; (b) establish senior leadership commitment from the Board of Directors, the President, the expanded leadership team, and approving the Terms of Reference of the Aboriginal Education Council; (c) implement an inclusive excellence strategy by Human Resources to increase the number of Aboriginal leaders working within VCC; and (d) enhance student body citizenship with new programming that includes Aboriginal history to mitigate racism and support critical learning skills and leadership development within the student body. The implementations examine finer details and considerations that must be reviewed within the context of the recommendations. Finally, future research recommendations are included as a part of the work that VCC could undertake with the Aboriginal Education Council to develop localized solutions that continue to support the success of Aboriginal learners at VCC.

Study Recommendation

It is rare to find unanimity on any topic in the realm of public policy. When it comes to Aboriginal education, however, the now overwhelming consensus [is] that improving educational outcomes is absolutely critical to the future of individual Aboriginal learners, their families and children, their communities, and the broader Canadian society as a whole. (Mayes, 2007, p. xix)

The question I sought to answer within this action research project was: What are the factors that contribute to the success of Aboriginal learners at VCC? The recommendations are considered from the frame of organizational behaviour and change that includes structural/systemic, human resource, political, and symbolic considerations (Bolman & Deal, 2003). The following recommendations are intended to contribute to the transformation of VCC through strategies that move beyond “islands of innovation with too little influence on institutional structures” (Williams et al., 2005, p. vii). Within the four frames of structural/systemic, human resource, political, and symbolic considerations the recommendations include: the need to identify Aboriginally defined indicators that will politically guide the college; the need for broad senior leadership commitment to support Aboriginal learners success that requires structural and symbolic changes; the need for a commitment to inclusive excellence and diversity that positively affects the human resources within VCC; and the leadership role in education VCC must take to support citizenship within the student body that will mitigate racism and further effect symbolic considerations.

Recommendation 1: Identify Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education Performance Measures

As outlined in the literature review of this report IAHLA institutes, the students themselves, and Aboriginal leaders in post-secondary education in BC broadly agree on the measures of success to support the success of Aboriginal learners. These Aboriginally defined indicators include: academic development; personal and cultural development; citizenship and leadership. These measures are much broader than conventional measures that are currently used to identify participation and graduation rates. However to date there is no clear articulation by Consortium partners of what Aboriginally defined performance measures are for Aboriginal learners in the VCC catchment area that will assist the College in planning and measuring progress annually.

To achieve this, it is recommended that VCC work with the Research Department and the Aboriginal Education Council to identify performance measures that can be incorporated into college strategic planning. These measures can be tracked annually through the Aboriginal learners’ survey that was established in 2009.

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