CORNER BROOK — The cuts to the College of the North Atlantic in the past year have been devastating to the Corner Brook and Stephenville campuses, says Gerry Byrne, and a major review of the public college system is in order.
That was one of the Liberal Commons member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte’s messages during his address to the Rotary Club of Corner Brook last Thursday.
Byrne said the status of the two western Newfoundland campuses in particular should be a concern for the region’s residents and urged them to demand the province reinstate the programs and staffing that were cut as a result of last spring’s provincial budget.
He added that, with the province presumably in a better financial situation now that a federal loan guarantee has been secured for the expensive Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity project, the government should be able to put more of its own money back into the college system.
In particular, Byrne said the Corner Brook campus lost 25 instructors and has had its student population reduced by more than 300, including those lost by shifting the adult basic education program away from the college’s jurisdiction. He also lamented the loss of the electronics engineering technology and adventure tourism programs and the closure of the award-winning geospatial research facility in Corner Brook.
“The College of the North Atlantic system is in jeopardy,” said Byrne. “There is no doubt about it. It’s not only here in Corner Brook, but some of the key facilities in Stephenville. They have focused on fine arts - those are now eliminated.”
Byrne said there are more than 100 grievances in the system and morale at the college is “at an all-time low.”
He said “a good, hard, focused look” at the public college system is needed.
“I quite frankly believe that, in the coming months — potentially two years away, there will be a massive audit and review of the College of the North Atlantic and its decision making,” said Byrne. “Those who need to be held accountable will indeed be held accountable for those decisions because, quite frankly, it has been devastating to us here in Corner Brook and has been very devastating to the education system throughout the entire province.”
Ann Marie Vaughan, the college’s president, was disappointed to hear what Byrne was saying publicly about the post-secondary institution. She said the decisions made were carefully considered and were based on both labour market demands and enrolment.
The programs that were cut, she noted, all had less than 10 students enrolled in them over a three-year period. The adventure tourism program, which Byrne said was “of critical importance” to western Newfoundland’s tourism industry, had just two students entering into their second year.
The reductions announced last spring, Vaughan said, had nothing to do with the quality of the programs or the instruction.
“They were all exceptional programs,” she commented.
Next week, the Corner Brook campus will begin offering a new program in power engineering. It will have a class of 16 students who will do the course in the evenings.
Vaughan said this was done to accommodate students who had indicated they wanted to do a course like this, but remain able to work during the day.
“The primary purpose of the college is to be responsive to the labour market,” said Vaughan. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that’s why colleges were created and that’s why we exist. We will always be in program review of what programs meet both labour market demand and student supply.”
Vaughan expressed concern that people might think the College of the North Atlantic is not committed to the western region. She said it is.
In the last year, she noted, the college’s wait lists were reduced by 20 per cent and enrolment has increased by eight per cent. The college has also been hiring people to deliver the new programs it has planned, she continued.
With programming always evolving with the labour markets and student demand, she hopes those numbers will continue to improve.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated that from the college, based on the conversation that took place in the spring about the reductions to the college,” she said.
Vaughan added that if Byrne, or anyone, has any concerns about what the college is doing or any ideas on what programs it should investigate offering, that she is welcome to discuss them.