A presentation from Okanagan College on encouraging enrolment figures and other strides made over the past year yielded enthusiasm for the campus’s future but also reflection on past failures from Salmon Arm City Council.
The regional dean of Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm Campus Joan Ragsdale and president Jim Hamilton presented a report that detailed Salmon Arm Campus operations over the past year at the city’s development and planning services committee meeting on April 3.
Some focuses of the presentation were Okanagan College success stories and recent growth of the campus.
The presenters said enrolment was up to 638 for the 2015-2016 academic year, up from 525 the previous year.
“One of the areas we have experienced remarkable growth in is the number of Aboriginal students at Okanagan College. Last year we signed an indigenous education protocol with a number of area bands and Metis organizations… Okanagan College has working relations and projects with virtually every band in our region,” Hamilton said.
“Working with indigenous communities is part of our strategic plan; it’s certainly something we need to be doing at the campus level,” Ragsdale added.
The presentation highlighted programs including construction trades and the new “resistance and revolution” associate of arts degree emphasis, as well as the activities of the campus Enactus club.
Hamilton and Ragsdale also spoke about plans for the future of the campus including efforts to attract students from outside Salmon Arm and even from other countries.
An example the presenters gave of successful attraction of students from outside Salmon Arm is the pipe trades program in which 67 per cent of students came from outside Salmon Arm.
The presenters said student housing is an important part of attracting students from outside the community and the feasibility of building student residences would be studied.
Ragsdale said efforts to improve campus life and atmosphere such as improving food service would also begin soon.
“Our goal is just to make sure everyone in this community knows the college is here for you and we want to make you feel welcome,” Ragsdale said.
Coun. Chad Eliason expressed disappointment with the pace the campus has grown in the past, particularly with the failure to build a downtown campus, despite a parcel of land and servicing money being secured for the project years ago.
Eliason said he’s happy to see new programs at the Salmon Arm campus and is excited to see growing enrolment and interest in constructing student housing.
“Something was dropped. We take our responsibility here, but I feel like there’s a lot of work to do in rebuilding this relationship and really getting the community’s support back,” Eliason said.
“I think we’re all disappointed that we’re not further ahead than we are; there’s some very real issues that we are having to face in order to achieve that shared vision, which I think we probably do have. It’s a question of how do we get there and how fast can we get there,” Hamilton replied.
Hamilton stressed the need for growth in enrolment before the campus’s facilities can grow.
“I’m optimistic but it’s a lot of time now that we’ve volunteered at this table for little to no results,” Eliason said
Coun. Kevin Flynn congratulated Ragsdale on student growth but said it was slower than expected and criticized the frequency of trades program offerings in Salmon Arm.
“That’s a great start to what we had hoped would’ve happened about 10 years ago so there is a level of disappointment for me as well,” he said.
Flynn also asked about the capacity of Okanagan College’s current building.
Hamilton estimated 180 more full-time equivalent students could be fit in the current facilities
Flynn spoke about a friend’s son who has to travel to Kelowna every day for electrical apprenticeship training and wondered why it is not offered in Salmon Arm.
“You talk about rotating programs; why isn’t a program like electrical rotated for our community or for our citizens instead of $19 million being invested in Kelowna for a new trades building,” he said.
Hamilton said the funding was for a trades building in need of replacement, and the electrician pre-apprenticeship program is offered in Salmon Arm.
“Where we have opportunity to add in additional training here we will do that,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he feels opportunities for growth at the Salmon Arm campus are better than they have been in the past.