In order to meet these significant academic goals, the program has had to wrestle with the barriers to higher education faced by working women. Acknowledging the difficulty of juggling full-time work, family responsibilities and study, the course is held at a workplace location, either during or immediately after work. Learning is thus integrated into the working day and does not require a separate outing with ensuing problems such as additional child care arrangements or transportation. The financial barriers to higher education are reduced by providing 50% tuition reimbursement to workers who complete a course related to their job or to the possibility of promotion. Books and other reading materials are available for sale during the class.
The effectiveness of the university preparation course has been demonstrated with over 60% of graduates going on to pursue higher education (3). Evaluation of the first three classes offered between January, 1990 and February, 1993 showed that 46 out of 65 women received a grade of B or better and 30 were admitted to York University. A recent follow-up study of the first five courses indicates that well over half the respondents have gone on to study at York University and community colleges. This success is not only due to the structure and organization of the program but also to its grounding in feminist principles of empowerment, equity and self-discovery. It is diverse, inclusive and fully participatory. These guiding principles are very much a part of the Women's Studies Department of Atkinson College (York University) which initiated this program along with the City of Toronto and Metropolitan Toronto.
From the beginning, the course has involved a three-way partnership among these three bodies. Atkinson is the only college in Ontario with full-time faculty appointed to serve mature students. Its mandate is to provide educational opportunities for working people and it has been offering courses on and off campus for twenty-five years. The Women's Studies Program of Atkinson College has been in the forefront of offering University Preparation courses to women in community and workplace settings.
The first university preparation course for municipal women employees was offered as a pilot program in January, 1990 and has been offered regularly ever since. The thirty-nine hour course is held for either two hours at noon (on one hour of employee time and one hour of work time), or for three hours in the late afternoon. Program graduates who complete the course with a grade B or better are automatically eligible for enrolment at York University. In order to ensure program success, staff coordination activities such as recruitment and outreach (to inform all women employees about the program), monitoring, administering and evaluating the course, are critical requirements of the sponsoring organizations.
The course has attracted a wide diversity of women employees from both the Metropolitan Toronto and City of Toronto work forces. Most women in these municipal work forces are in traditional fields as clerical/ secretarial, social service and health care. Many of these women employees are "dead-ended" in pink ghettos with little opportunity for either development or promotion. The university preparation class can provide a vital first step back into the educational system.
Women employed in the trades, technical and operations (TTO) fields have also participated in the classes, although the shift work associated with TTO jobs can make scheduling difficult. These women, who are pioneers in the workplace, bring new perspectives to the class discussions and, for them, the benefits of the course can be unexpected. One participant attributed to the university preparation course her successful promotion from Building Custodian to Superintendent. She reported that it had got her "back into a learning mode" and that she had gone on to take a building management course which was invaluable to her in the competition for her new position (4).