The college and the community -

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Last week we shared our recently conversation with the dean of Cornwall campus at St. Lawrence College, Don Fairweather.

During our conversation Fairweather said business is good at the college. He referred to the studies that show when the economy heads south, the colleges in the province see an increase, for the most part, in their enrollment. It certainly holds true in Cornwall where they’ve experienced a whopping 26% increase in full- time enrollment.

But is it all positive?

That’s the subject of this week’s conversation with Dean Fairweather, which also started out with some positive facts about the college.

Fairweather says they are a place of higher learning but they also pride themselves on being a member of the Cornwall community. “I believe St. Lawrence College, Cornwall, is intrinsic to the community, not just on the educational provider side, but also in terms of economic development both short term and long term. Those 1,136 students we have are not only full time but they’re also full-time consumers in our community. The economic value that they bring by being here is not insignificant but more importantly we know that historically about eighty percent of our graduates end up working in Eastern Ontario. Our graduates are the primary drivers of the economy because they are, for the most part, staying in Eastern Ontario. The college also plays an important cultural role in the community; it’s a meeting place with Aultsville Theatre and our partnership with the Aultsville Theatre board. It’s a hub for all kinds of social and cultural gatherings in the community,” said Fairweather.

If there is a negative side to all this good news, it’s this: Fairweather says what’s known as continuing education or those nighttime classes, appears to be in decline, not only in Cornwall, but also across the province. He says no one appears to have a handle on why the decline is happening. He suggests perhaps people are busier than ever and don’t have time or are getting a lot of their information on the internet now. He says the concern is there. “The obvious answer is yes, but you have to look at the whole landscape. We also provide space for a group called Encore, and Encore is in the business of providing educational interest courses to those fifty-five and older and their business is booming.”

Fairweather says they are aware that the demographics of Cornwall are tilted toward the “senior side of life,” which may account for the fact that the demand for continuing education is being met by others as well as the college.

As far as the future goes, “I see good things for the Cornwall campus and for the St. Lawrence College entity. I can’t under-stress the value the enhanced facilities will provide. We’ve already got good people in good programs but having a better physical learning environment will just make ‘good’ into ‘great!’”

Fairweather says he believes the new, improved physical plant will be a plus when it comes to the future recruitment of students. “I believe that we can anticipate for the next three to five years, we will have modest continued growth. In the longer term we know that statistically the secondary school population is starting to decrease in numbers and that will be a concern to the college because that is part of our market. As that group gets smaller, unless we do some other things, we may face declining enrollment.”

He says they are aware of the possibilities and they are planning for that eventuality. “The offset to that is that half of enrollment doesn’t come out of high school. Half of the student population has had at least a year or more of an interval between their high school graduation and coming to college. That means there’s still a lot of people out there who sort of bounce around and then find themselves and decide they want more education and I don’t believe that market is shrinking. That may mitigate the declining teenage population.”

With a particularly rosy picture of the future of the Cornwall campus of St. Lawrence College, Fairweather has not forgotten where the success has come from. “I think it’s because of the tremendous support we get from the community. Virtually all of the twenty programs we deliver here on campus have a very significant field-place component and that’s the beauty of the college education, the course of theory and knowledge, but it’s also practice and practical. All of students at the college will have a chance to be out in the community in an industry or business that they’re studying and that’s only possible because of the tremendous partnerships and willingness of industry and businesses in our community that support us. It’s really a celebration of the broader community supporting post-secondary education.”

So, it appears education and the business of education is alive and well at our very own St. Lawrence College. Something to think about as perhaps your offspring get ready to leave high school for the next level in their lives.

I’m John Divinski.

Organizations: Lawrence College, Aultsville Theatre

Geographic location: Cornwall, Eastern Ontario

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