Eduvation Blog

2016 in 6 Words: Wildfires & Free Tuition (p1)

Ken Steele’s 10th annual higher ed “year in review” looks back at 2016 and sums up the major news and trends shaping the postsecondary landscape in just 6 words.

In part 1, he reviews the many tragedies of 2016, from the loss of famous celebrities and great thinkers to Zika and Brangelina. 2016 was a year that left many feeling adrift, and the surge towards populism gave us Brexit, Trump, and Boaty McBoatface.

Plenty of trends we identified in previous years continued in 2016, from gender equity and sexual assault protocols to political correctness, indigenous content and “peak campus”. But in this episode, we look at a major disaster and an emerging trend that defined the year that was:

1) FIRE!

The biggest news story in Canada was unquestionably the Fort MacMurray wildfire, which swept through 1.5 million acres in northern Alberta. It caused the emergency evacuation of all 88,000 residents in town, destroyed 2,400 homes, and caused about $9 billion in damage. Keyano College was fortunate, in that its campuses escaped structural damage, but smoke remediation still cost about $15 million. Canada is still feeling the economic and labour market impacts of the disaster.

2) FREE!

Momentum towards free tuition programs has been building across North America for several years. In 2014, the “Tennessee Promise” offered students 2 years of community college for zero tuition. In 2015, President Obama proposed a $60 billion “American College Promise” program, and Minnesota and Oregon approved plans of their own. In 2016, Kentucky followed suit, and Bernie Sanders pushed for free university tuition as well.

In Canada, Quebec CÉGEPs have been offering free tuition for 50 years now, but in 2016 Ontario and New Brunswick launched new programs. The Canadian Federation of Students published a report calling for “education justice,” and calculating that it would cost the federal government $10.2 billion. CFS staged a day of protest in early November.


Next time, in part 2, we’ll look at the global shift towards populism, protectionism, and a post-truth distrust of intellectuals. The trends pose major challenges, and some opportunities, to higher education.

Stay tuned until after the closing credits for some bloopers!

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