By Clint Buehler
EDMONTON – Alberta Metis post-secondary students have received a major boost with the announcement of two new endowment funds.
The funds are financed through donations from the Metis Nation of Alberta’s Metis Education Foundation, and are targeted to assist Metis students attending Edmonton’s NorQuest College and University of Alberta (U of A).
The contribution to the U of A fund of $2 million will be matched over time by the university to create a $4 million Metis Endowment Fund at the university. The foundation’s contribution of $375,000 towards the creation of the Metis Student Awards endowment fund at NorQuest will also generate an additional $375,000 in matching funds from the Alberta Government Access to the Future Fund, bringing the total value of the Metis Student Awards endowment to $750,000.
Beginning this academic year and continuing in perpetuity, more than a dozen Metis Scholar Awards ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 will assist undergraduate and graduate students in defraying some of their costs of investing in a university education. Initially a minimum of 13 awards will be distributed, and the numbers will increase as the endowment fund grows.
In announcing the endowment, Audrey Poitras, president of the Metis Nation of Alberta and chair of the Metis Education Foundation said “as the U of A stands on the threshold of its second century, it is the principal university serving the Metis population of Alberta. What we hope to achieve in creating a Metis Endowment Fund at the U of A is to encourage even more of our young people to pursue postsecondary studies at this, one of the finest universities in Canada.
While the majority of new jobs created in the Canadian economy are expected to require a university degree, the Metis lag behind the rest of the population in higher education. According to Statistics Canada information, only 4.3 per cent of Metis in Alberta have a university degree compared to almost 15 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population.
“In spite of the good times so many Albertans are experiencing, too many youth—especially among Aboriginal populations—are being left behind, having too little access to postsecondary education and the opportunities it can create,” said U of A President Indira Samarasekera. “Increasing the participation of Metis and Aboriginal youth in higher education is one of our main priorities at the University of Alberta.”
“This is an endowment fund for the long term, not stopgap measure that will end in two or three years,” Poitras said. “Our students will benefit from this fund for as long as the U of A exists, and we hope that will be for a very, very long time.”
“Creating endowments like the Metis Endowment Fund are critical to sustaining and expanding student support,” Samarasekara added. “Endowments create what I call ‘intergenerational equity.’ As the awards being created today begin supporting the efforts and talents of new Metis students, a new generation of leaders will be certain to emerge to carry the strength and pride of the Metis Nation forward far into the 21st century.”
Starting this fall, the Metis Student Awards will provide eligible Metis students attending NorQuest College with financial assistance in the form of undergraduate bursaries and awards ranging from $1,500 to $3,000. Priority will be given to students enrolled in NorQuest’s Aboriginal University Transition Program. The partnership will also develop an Essential Skills Initiative for Metis clients as part of the Metis Nation of Alberta’s Labour Market Development program.
“The partnership with the Metis Nation of Alberta will make it easier for Metis students to access our various skills training and career programs,” said NorQuest College President and CEO Dr. Wayne Shillington. “The endowment fund will help to ensure Metis students take those important steps toward achieving their educational and career goals.”
“This endowment fund opens opportunities to education for Metis people,” said Poitras. “It is important for students to complete their programs with as little debt as possible and the Metis Student Awards will help achieve this. I want to thank NorQuest college for partnering with the MNA.”
Sixteen per cent of the student population at NorQuest College is Aboriginal, nearly one quarter of which are Metis.
NorQuest College serves around 10,000 students each year through full-time, part-time and regional programs in communities across Alberta. In addition to health care, allied health, human services, business and industry career programs. NorQuest offers expertise in adult literacy, English as a Second Language (ESL), intercultural education, Aboriginal education, academic upgrading, and learner supports for students with disabilities.