Last week, members of the rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC) Monty Palmantier and Scott Zayac provided an update to the Burns Lake council on the latest activities of the committee.
Their presentation suggested that there won’t be room for two colleges in Burns Lake.
The group has been working to bring a rural campus of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) – an Aboriginal public post-secondary institute with campuses in Merritt and Burnaby – to Burns Lake.
The committee hopes that the NVIT campus will be located where the Lakes District campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC) is currently located.
Zayac and Palmantier highlighted the current situation of the CNC campus, adding that the status quo will fracture the community even further.
They pointed out that CNC had an average of 84 staff members between 2007 and 2013, and that the latest estimate in 2016 is 23. When it comes to student enrolment, the 2007 to 2013 average was 377 full time equivalent students. Now, the estimate is 40.
They also pointed out that the number and level of programs and services available in the community have been greatly reduced for the most marginalized members of the community.
“Over the past two years there have been numerous changes at the campus that resulted in the loss of educational programs and services, negative social and economic outcomes for vulnerable families, as well as decrease of economic stability in the community.”
Zayac said Burns Lake is not the only community in the province struggling with these issues and that other communities have had similar discussions with the provincial government.
“These are issues across the province and not just Burns Lake. There’s an opportunity for this community to be at the forefront of these discussions and develop a model that works for the community and a model that could be replicated in other communities as well.”
Not taking action right now would result in even more negative consequences for Burns Lake, said Zayac.
“If we look at the status quo, there’s going to continue to be a limited number of accredited programs offered in our community and students are going to continue to go outside of the community to find these programs,” he said. “The high cost of delivery makes the campus vulnerable for further cuts.”
“There’s also a chance that this kind of arrangement will be offered outside of our community in places such as Fort St. James,” he continued. “If that does happen, it will mean a greater disadvantage to students in our area – they will have to travel outside of our community to get post-secondary education and it’s a real economic loss for our community and our region.”
“There’s likely going to be changes in post-secondary education and we want to be at the table,” he added. “We’re looking for a sustainable future and we’re concerned about the long-term viability of post-secondary education in the community.”
According to RPEC, if they are successful in receiving a base budget of $3 million from the province, it would be enough to support 300 students with room to grow with cost-recovery programs.
“This would be well over $1 million in salaries that would be earned by local staff, people spending money in this community, paying taxes in this community,” he said. “We really do have a unique opportunity here and it would be a shame to miss that opportunity.”
When asked what would happen to current staff at CNC if NVIT takes over their campus, Zayac said NVIT will offer employment opportunities for existing CNC staff. However, NVIT hasn’t made any commitments so far.
“It’s too early for that [commitment],” said Zayac. “Its’ a big concern for us, and we’ve had conversation with NVIT about that.”
However, Zayac said it would be up to the province to drive the transition process.
“We are leaving it up to the province to make that transition.”
What CNC had to say
Lakes District News asked College of New Caledonia (CNC) president Henry Reiser if he was aware of the changes proposed by the rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC) and if CNC would help facilitate the transition if RPEC is successful in their proposal.
“Our energy is focused on continuing to engage with CNC staff, First Nations, students, community members, organizations and elected officials within Burns Lake as they inform our educational planning process,” said Reiser.
“The College of New Caledonia has provided post-secondary learning opportunities to the people of north central B.C. for 48 years,” he continued. “Our roots are deep in the communities we serve. Our commitment to deliver relevant, high-quality education to all residents of Burns Lake remains steadfast.”
“We are excited about the future for CNC Burns Lake campus which is incredibly bright with local leadership provided through our new regional principal Corinne George and our educational investments in extensions of learning through our digital delivery instruction initiative,” he added.