College launches digital courses amid debate

Local group wants college replaced

Questions surrounding the fate of the local College of New Caledonia (CNC) campus continued to swirl at Burns Lake village council, even as the college announced the launch of its new digital delivery system for a slate of courses.

In a media release on April 25, the college hailed the system as an innovative way to provide otherwise-inaccessible courses at all of its campuses — with chapters in Quesnel, Fort St. James, Vanderhoof, Mackenzie, Burns Lake and Prince George.

Digital delivery

The CNC is offering seven courses — on topics including microbiology, anatomy, management, mathematics, English composition and psychology — through a digital system that brings together students from the CNC’s campuses using video cameras and microphones.

“Enrolment might not have been strong enough to sustain these courses at each campus,” said Chad Thompson, the CNC’s acting vice-president for academic affairs in a medial release. The digital model means those numbers can be achieved by bringing students together from all six campuses, he said.

But as the college prepared for the launch, Burns Lake councillors were mulling a request from a group that wants to see the Lakes District campus in Burns Lake replaced.

College in crisis?

The Rural Post-Secondary Education Committee (RPEC) has said that post-secondary education in Burns Lake is in crisis, and requested that council provide up to $10,000 in funding to update a 2015 socio-economic impact assessment about the college.

The group argues that the CNC should be replaced if an updated report reveals that the college hasn’t seen any growth in the number of staff employed or full-time equivalent students enrolled — and that a rural campus of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) would be a better fit for the community.

“A healthy post-secondary campus will help the community weather the economic storms on the horizon,” said Scott Zayac and Rick Pooley of RPEC in a letter to council. “It will provide well-paid jobs, training and education that will help retain people in the community.”

Model debated

Mayor Chris Beach and Councillor Susan Schienbein both recused themselves as the rest of council debated the funding request.

Councillor Charlie Rensby initially expressed support for the idea, saying the CNC isn’t providing people in Burns Lake with the training they need. “The model right now is broken,” he said.

But Rensby revised his position when Councillor Kelly Holliday expressed reservations about the request — noting that the village had already invested $20,000 in the original 2015 study.

“I still have some questions before I personally feel we should be throwing another $10,000 at a study for RPEC to be able to say that CNC is doing everything wrong,” said Holliday.

She added that council needs to hear from CNC officials to find out how things are going with the college’s new digital delivery model, which is being launched this month.

Councillor Michael Riis-Christianson said that he wasn’t opposed to updating the report, but echoed Holliday’s unease. He added that he wanted to hear from members of the Lakes District economic diversification committee.

Rensby said that Holliday brought up some questions that he couldn’t ignore, and suggested that RPEC come back to council to address concerns. He said that he wasn’t convinced that the NVIT was the right choice.

“What I want to see is whether the CNC changes their strategy,” he said, adding that other policy options were on the table.

Council ultimately deferred the discussion on RPEC’s request — and resolved to invite the CNC to council to discuss their digital instruction program, enrolment figures and pass rates at the Lakes District campus.

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