North Island College remains committed to bringing educational opportunities to West Coast communities.
The college, which has a campus in Ucluelet and spreads programming throughout the West Coast, recently released its 2016-2020 strategic plan and listed “access to learning and services across the region” as one of its top strategic priorities.
“It’s a basic justice and fairness issue. We can’t just write off parts of our region and say ‘you’re too small, no can do,’” the college’s president and CEO John Bowman told the Westerly News.
“Why should people who live in Ucluelet and Tofino not have the benefit of some of the tax dollars that they pay to the province for post secondary education?”
Bowman said the West Coast’s student population is small but that does not mean locals don’t deserve higher learning opportunities.
“We have a duty, I think, as a public institution to do our best within the limitations to provide access to opportunities and it does make a difference in people’s lives and their economic and social well-being to access post secondary education,” he said.
“The sustainability of our small communities depends upon people having access to learning and economic opportunities whether that’s working in tourism or potential new big projects that might come about on the West Coast.”
He added many locals are unable to travel or relocate for schooling so the college must work to bring educational opportunities to them.
“We have a very positive working relationship with Ahousaht and working in partnership with them we’ve been able to bring some programs right to their community,” he said.
“Part of our challenge is creating a critical mass of students who are interested in program ‘X’ or ‘Y’ so we really need good intelligence from the community whether that be Ahousaht or Tofino or Ucluelet about both the needs and the potential trainees or students.”
NIC has also worked with Ucluelet Secondary School to offer dual-credit programming to high school students wanting to get a head start on their post-secondary educations.
“We have a captive audience in the high school students and I think working with our partners in the school district we can even increase the number of things that are done on a dual credit basis right in the high schools,” Bowman said.
He believes NIC will continue to enjoy a sustainable student-market on the West Coast as long as it keeps its programming fresh and stays tuned in to the communities’ needs.
“It’s sustainable as long as we don’t try to do the same thing year after year in exactly the same way because we will exhaust the need,” he said.
He said it is “critically important” for NIC to be engaged in the West Coast.
“There are specific needs and challenges in your communities, non-aboriginal as well as aboriginal, so we need to find out what those needs are and figure out if it’s possible for us to help address them and we do that through sitting down, talking face to face, breaking bread and working in collaboration,” he said.
“That’s just the business we’re in as a community college, we need to listen to our communities frankly for our own survival and sustainability. If we’re not doing that, if we become irrelevant, there’s no need for us…Listening builds trust particularly if you listen and then act on what you heard and we do our best to do that.”
He said the college will look to improve its local offerings by increasing its local presence.
“There are lots of things we could be doing better particularly if we had more boots on the ground to develop relationships and develop new program initiatives,” he said.
“If we had more capacity we would be doing more programming and getting out and connecting to more potential students. Whether that’s through the secondary school programs or relationships with the business community and First Nations.”
In an effort to pursue and build these relationships, the college is bringing in a new administrative leader to engage with the Alberni-Clayoquot region.
“That person’s primary role will be outreach, developing relationships and pursuing new programming possibilities on the West Coast and in the Alberni Valley,” Bowman said.