Earlier this month I attended an event called ‘project local government’ in which local high-school students had a chance to share a meal with Burns Lake council members and ask them questions.
Every year I’m impressed with the quality of questions and the students’ understanding of complex local issues.
This year, one of the students brought up the issues of housing and education in Burns Lake. She said she was frustrated with the fact that, up until a few years ago, the local campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC) had more options for programs.
“CNC in Prince George took away most of the programs here and now it’s mostly just trades, so we can’t get a decent education here,” she said.
The feeling shared by this student makes you wonder if CNC is on the right track. Jay Notay, CNC’s vice president of community and student services, told Lakes District News last week that the recent decline in the number of Burns Lake students is not associated with the college’s restructuring (read story on page 16).
This same local student said that the lack of available housing makes it difficult for young people to stay in Burns Lake.
“I am graduating this year, and I want to stick around town, but none of the apartments have anything available,” she said. “There are no houses for rent, and I don’t have any credit, so I can’t buy a house.”
Councillor Michael Riis-Christianson said he was happy to hear that a high-school student wanted to stay in Burns Lake after graduation.
“This is why we’re working on economic diversification, to make sure that people like you have a reason to stick around,” he said.
Riis-Christianson said he also knows of people who gave up on their plans to move to Burns Lake because they could not find any available housing within their expected price range.
“You’re not going to get people to move here if you don’t have accommodation for people, so it’s really important,” he said.
CNC is now looking into attracting international students to Burns Lake to increase enrolment numbers. But if there’s no available housing, it would certainly be a challenge to implement that strategy.
The college is also investing in its digital delivery initiative (DDI) to increase enrolment numbers. The college says that feedback on its DDI initiative in Quesnel and Prince George so far has been positive, but is this really the best way to attract and retain students in rural areas? Shouldn’t rural campuses be investing in unique programs that can’t be found anywhere else?
Although the DDI initiative certainly seems to make sense from an administrative and financial perspective, I wonder if this is something that students are actually looking for.