The college and the community

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It really doesn’t matter if you’ve ever attended the classes at St. Lawrence College, Cornwall campus, or even stepped on the property for one event or another. The fact of the matter is our college is an important cog in the Cornwall wheel and one of the amenities that makes this city great. I know all of that sounds rather pompous, but these aren’t the words of the dean of Cornwall campus, Don Fairweather, it’s simply my opinion. I arrived at it, following a chat with Mr. Fairweather about the now and the future of our St. Lawrence College.

Fairweather has been dean of the local campus since the fall of 2007, replacing then-Executive Director Pat Finucan. “I had a wonderful career with the Upper Canada District School Board as a teacher, school administrator and systems superintendent, but the opportunity to come back to Cornwall and work in the community everyday was very attractive to me and I’m very proud to be an employee of St. Lawrence College at this point in their history,” he said.

Fairweather believes it’s been an asset to have the experience he’s had in the public education system to prepare for his new job. “The timing to make the transition was good because already there was a willingness in the province to try to attract more students to a post-secondary destination after high school and also have more kids graduate from high school. So there were some initiatives just getting underway to try to help support colleges.”

Fairweather says “one of those examples is something called dual credit, whereby students who are still registered at their high school can actually come to the college, take a course here alongside college students and when they’re successfully finished that course, they’d get a high school credit and a college credit simultaneously. That program, when I first arrived here, was at the ‘pilot’ stage and we’ve now grown that program to the point where we have in excess of thirty students this fall who are high school students who are taking courses here (St. Lawrence College) in a broad range of programs. We believe it’s helping those students see the possibilities after high school and our early history is that about one out of three of every student that takes that kind of program actually stays, on a full-time basis, the next year at our college.”

He says others in the group go on to colleges and universities in other centres.

Business is good at the Cornwall campus. “We had a twenty-six-percent increase in our enrollment on the Cornwall Campus this fall so we now have an enrollment of 1,136,” said Fairweather.

He points out that studies have shown in the past that when the economy takes a nosedive, enrollment in colleges increases. He says it appears we’ve benefitted from the hard times. “If there isn’t a job, you might as well go to school to be better prepared for future job opportunities.”

However, Fairweather says that’s not the only reason the college is seeing some good times. “Through good planning we’ve introduced some new programs on the campus this year, and that, of course, attracts new students who wouldn’t otherwise be here,” he said.

One of the new programs is “Game Development Technician.” “Very exciting two-year program where students actually learn to develop programs that can be used for recreational gaming and also for simulation in educational training purposes. It’s a huge growing business and Canada is a leader in that sector. We had thirty-nine students enter the program this fall.”

Fairweather says the increase in their student population wasn’t a problem for the Cornwall campus. He says the college has been in the enviable position of having excess space. He says it was a good thing to have the increase because it filled up those empty spots at the college, thus providing a revenue stream to support that excess space.

As far as infrastructure goes, Fairweather says “as a result of federal and provincial funding, the college has recently received ten million dollars to refurbish Moulinette Hall.”

As this paper hits the streets (Nov. 19), there’s a ground breaking ceremony tomorrow (Nov. 20) on this renovation project.

In the business of education, one must address the need and that seems to be happening locally and regionally. “We have about twenty programs on the Cornwall campus and more than eighty programs across all of our campuses in Cornwall, Brockville and Kingston. I would say one of the most attractive areas for students right now is in the health sciences sector: We have that four-year degree nursing program that we deliver in partnership with Laurentian University and we had a first-year intake of fifty-nine (students). We have a two-year practical nurse diploma program and we have in excess of fifty students registered in that program. We have a two-year paramedic program; we had seventy-one students registered in first year of that program and we also have a personal support worker program—we have about thirty-five students registered there,” says the dean.

We asked Fairweather about the recent controversies surrounding some so-called colleges and the programs and diplomas they offer. Students have discovered after spending their money, the diplomas aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. “All the programs we offer are accredited through the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. We have to seek their approval before we offer any of our programs. The standards of the courses we’re offering are very high and they are broadly recognized, not only in Ontario but throughout Canada and the world. We’ve got in excess of 30,000 graduates from St. Lawrence College and they’re scattered everywhere doing all sorts of successful things,” he said.

As we alluded to earlier, no matter how you look at, education is a business and St. Lawrence College is in the ‘business’ of educating, but they need to create a good return to continue. It takes about $7 million a year to finance St. Lawrence College every year. There are about 30 full-time teaching faculty; three campus managers; about 20 support staff; about 130 part-time teachers. “We’ve had no cutbacks of full-time jobs, and with part-time jobs, we’ve been able to scale up or scale down according to demand dictated by student enrollment. So because our enrollment has gone up, we’ve obviously hired more part-time folks and I’m sure over the course of time, be hiring more full-time faculty as well.”

That’s the good news.

Is there a downside to St. Lawrence College, Cornwall campus?

That’s next week in this column.

I’m John Divinski.

Organizations: Lawrence College, Upper Canada District School Board, Laurentian University Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities

Geographic location: Cornwall, Canada, Brockville Kingston Ontario

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