Ontario’s graduating high school students are facing fierce competition as unemployed mature students are increasingly vying for university and college spots.

Ontario’s Second Career program gives laid-off workers a big incentive, offering them up to $28,000 a year to return to school and train for high-demand jobs. Programs of two years or less are eligible. Participants usually attend community colleges or private career colleges.

Administrators have said youngsters won’t get priority. “Colleges shouldn’t have to choose between a secondary school student and a student who’s going to school through Second Career,” said Patrick O’Gorman, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. “We are not aware of any university or college where that’s been the case.”

U of T has seen an unexpected increase in acceptances of offers to enroll, which assistant dean Glenn Loney said is probably linked to the weak economy.

While U of T does not keep track of the ages of applicants, Loney said that the numbers of mature, part-time students have dropped off noticeably over the past 10 years. “It is hard to know why, but it seems that those who choose to do university tend more toward going full-time and finishing.”

This article has been updated to reflect that the Second Career Program applies to programs of two years or less, which does not include university programs.