Northwest Community College is on the verge of cutting the number of university credit classes it offers at its main campus locations of Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers.
And, in Smithers, it could mean the end of face-to-face classroom instruction.
The result will also mean fewer university credit instructors being employed at the college.
College communications director Sarah Zimmerman said no decisions have been made but that the college needs to respond to budget pressures and lower enrolments specifically in its academic programs.
“What we’re trying to do is minimize the impact,” she said of everything from offering early retirement incentives and voluntary severance packages to instructors to combining classes where it makes sense to do so.
A number of instructors have already been given notices of at least partial layoffs in accordance with union contracts, said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was responding to an April 2 release by the Northwest Community College Students’ Union which indicated college officials were about to cut up to 40 university courses – 15 in Prince Rupert, 6 in Terrace, and 14 in Smithers.
Since there are only 14 courses being offered in Smithers, it would mean the end of classroom instruction there, said the union.
“The one place locals can start a post-secondary education in our region is Northwest Community College,” said students’ union chair Steve Verblac in criticizing the college’s plan.
Trades and other programs, so far, have not been affected.
Zimmerman did not confirm nor deny the numbers released by the students’ union but said in places such as Smithers, alternatives to direct classroom instruction are possible.
“To say that we won’t be offering instruction in Smithers isn’t true. We’re going to ensure there are options for our students,” she said.
The college already offers classes through closed-circuit viewing in which students in one community are taught by an instructor in another community.
What the college must do is match its course offerings with the enrolment it has and with the needs of its students, said Zimmerman.
There has been a drop in academic program enrolment, a circumstance that could have been caused by the demand for workers on large scale industrial projects in the past several years.
But with large projects such as Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter rebuilding project winding down, there might be renewed interest in going to college, said Zimmerman.
She said an exact budget picture isn’t available but that a proposed spending plan will be put to the college’s board this month in Smithers.
“At that point the board will then develop its plan,” she said.
Any course offering reduction and loss of employees is difficult, Zimmerman added.
“This is not an exercise anyone takes pleasure in doing,” she said.
Province targets funds for job training
NWCC student union organizer Mikael Jensen pointed out that targeted funding puts limits on what programming some of the money received from the province can be spent on.
“When that targeted funding comes out, it is higher on a per seat basis than base funding,” said Jensen.
The operating budget for the college is $17.2 million. Discretionary base funding is at $15.85 million. Target funding is at $1.35 million. But target funding for courses is $470 higher for each full time student.
There are 125 full time student seats that fall under target funding, and 1,539 who fall under base funding.
B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint explains how the government plans to “re-engineer education and training so that British Columbians will have the skills needed to fill the one million job openings anticipated in the province by 2022.”
That plan is to increase target funding to courses the province sees as training for jobs in demand.
The blueprint reads “as a result, in 2014/15, the amount of targeted funding within sector-wide operating grants has increased by $40 million, to almost $230 million. This targeted funding will increase to almost $320 million in 2015/16, $410 million in 2016/17, and almost $460 million by 2017/18.”
Post secondary institutions including NWCC are required to complete annual Skills Gap Plans starting this spring on how to implement programming that directly aligns with the province’s priorities.
The February budget letter to NWCC states that “institutions not achieving Skills Gap Plan targets will have funding redirected.”
“A lot of these skills things will get you a job but they won’t get you a career. We would like the college to focus on getting people careers as opposed to getting people jobs,” said Jensen.
With files from Rod Link, Terrace Standard