At this time of the year, many high school graduates in the Class of 2013 are looking forward to the future and their opportunities to enrol in affordable and high-quality post-secondary education and training programs.
Since the early years of our district vocational schools, Newfoundland and Labrador’s community college system has matured, diversified and gained an international reputation for excellence. The College of the North Atlantic is the envy of other provinces and jurisdictions around the world, as is evidenced by the continuing leadership role played by the college in the state of Qatar since 2002.
Prior to the establishment of a single province-wide college, College of the North Atlantic, our public college system underwent wave after wave of provincial government-led reorganization and rationalization. There have been periods of government neglect, such as in the 1990s, when skilled trades and applied programs were deprived of funding and campuses at Bell Island, Lewisporte, Springdale and Parade Street in St. John’s were permanently closed down.
Despite policy and funding decisions that have occasionally undermined the college’s important role
in community and labour market development in Newfoundland and Labrador, College of the North Atlantic has held true to the core principles of the community college mandate.
One core principle that has shaped public college education in this province has been the mix of different college programs designed to serve students with differing abilities, career goals and interests. This has ensured student access to a wide variety of program options in skilled trades, applied arts and technology, business, continuing education, academic upgrading as well as university transfer courses.
Public community college education has also been defined by access to campuses that are conveniently spread out across the province. This offers students an opportunity to study closer to work or home, without the need to uproot their lives in search of training at increased cost. This also better provides for labour market needs in local industries since many of those who relocate for training end up relocating permanently.
This year’s provincial budget significantly cut public college funding resulting in the loss of about 700 college program seats and the wholesale privatization of all Adult Basic Education (ABE) programming. In the latter case, Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her cabinet seem to have overlooked that college ABE delivery had already been downsized to the point where a hockey league on Bell Island recently filled in to deliver ABE in the absence of a college program.
In the coming year, the current government plans to conduct a further review of College of the North Atlantic programs. If the past is any indication, continued downsizing of the college system through program cuts or campus closures will have few positive consequences for either rural communities or the province as a whole.
Over and over, we have heard government preach about future job opportunities here in our own industries.
Rather than reducing opportunities for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to train for these positions, it's time that College of the North Atlantic was provided with the resources needed to build on its existing comprehensive, accessible program offerings.
Dale Kirby is the MHA for St. John’s North and the NDP critic for Advanced Education and Skills