A community-built response to improving access to education

Deciding on post-secondary education is a big step that can be particularly difficult for students who’ve grown up in areas with lower socio-economic status. To counter that, Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario has developed “City School by Mohawk,” a community-based initiative that aims to break down barriers to education and employment for residents of some of the city’s struggling neighbourhoods.

The goal of City School by Mohawk is to overcome the post-secondary attainment gap that may affect residents of communities struggling with poverty and other causes of marginalization. To do that, it has brought college programming and services directly to residents in easily accessible downtown “learning hubs.” There, City School offers tuition-free college credit courses and workshops, taught by Mohawk faculty and staff, to encourage potential students to take gradual steps on a postsecondary pathway.

The two City School hubs offer college courses in a classroom environment, giving students a sense of what’s involved in attending college, as well as the chance to explore different topics they think they might like to study. And those who successfully complete the free course can earn a credit to be applied when they enroll at Mohawk.

“City school is a first for Hamilton and Ontario,” says Jim Vanderveken, dean of Interdisciplinary Studies at Mohawk College. “No other college in the province is taking community engagement to this level.” He describes City School by Mohawk as a basecamp on the journey to post-secondary education. Putting a college education within reach of everyone in the community is a priority for Dean Vanderveken and the college.

Research on the effectiveness of the City School project is being led by Dr. Alan Bourke, who is studying the perceptions students have of City School, and whether they succeed. Results of his work so far indicate significant promise: participants have high levels of satisfaction with their learning experience. Students report developing confidence in their academic abilities and building a connection with the college through a strong support system that advocates for their interests and aspirations.

Among a number of other positive findings, students appreciated the passion of their City School faculty, the flexibility of the course delivery schedules, and valued the child-care offered.

City School has generated significant interest in other communities tackling poverty and social marginalization. Mohawk also has plans to launch of a mobile City School.

Funded by: Community and College Social Innovation Fund, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

About Mohawk College

Mohawk College educates and serves 30,000 full-time, part-time and apprenticeship students at three campuses in Hamilton, Ontario. More than 1,200 international students from over 70... Learn more