College sees distance learning increase despite drop in regional enrolment

Merna Emara
Staff Writer

Enrolment numbers at the Confederation College for the years 2020/2021 are lower compared to 2019.

Kathleen Lynch, president of Confederation College, said because of COVID-19 inconveniences, they saw a tad lower domestic enrolment, but an even more significant decrease in first year international enrolment compared to last year.

Last year, regional enrolment was 252 students, while distance education totalled 156 students. This year’s regional enrolment was 234 and students who signed up for distance learning totalled 320. Regional enrolment saw about a seven per cent decrease, while distance learning saw a 105 per cent increase.

“I think our distance numbers prove that more people are signing up for distance programming. They can actually complete a program,” Lynch said.

“Through distance education, we have a library technology program and we’re launching a new fitness and health management program. There are a lot of different programs you can take through our distance programs. We’re working on launching our personal support worker program so that you can take it virtually as well.”

Lynch said domestic enrolment was down by only three per cent, while international enrolment saw a decrease of 49 per cent for first year students.

“But our second year enrolment was good because they were already in the country so they could return,” Lynch said. “We were about on par with what we expected with returning international students.”

About 3,200 full time domestic and international students were enrolled in the fall semester. Lynch said there is an increase of enrolment for the winter term.

“Our Indigenous enrolment is up quite a bit for the winter semester,” Lynch said. “We’re happy with those numbers too. We do have a number of international students arriving but given the recent events with international travel and travel restrictions, it’s getting harder for them to get here because flights are being canceled.”

Confederation College offers an array of courses including nursing, media art, radiation technology and other trades programs.

Lynch said one of the most popular courses at Confederation College is the flight aviation management program.

Trades programs include automotive, carpentry, electrical, trucking coach, heavy duty, mechanic, millwright, roofing and welding. Lynch said she is aware of the difficulty of hiring for trades positions in the Rainy River District, but she said they have to be approved by the government to provide a trades program and they have to have a critical mass.

“In the northwest and northeast, we have worked with different colleges providing different specialties in terms of trades,” Lynch said.

“It just depends on what we were already approved to provide. We’d love to provide more trades training. But right now the whole trades and apprenticeship are really changing and the government’s trying to change it because it is a difficult system to navigate.”

Lynch said they only received $500,000 from the Ministry of Education when COVID-19 first occurred.

“We spent that on all of the physical measures we had to take as well as buying laptops to loan to students,” Lynch said. “Since then, we’ve had a little bit of funding through apprenticeships to help. I would say it’s a small amount, but any amount helps. Otherwise we haven’t received any funding to help with their expenses with the pandemic.”

Despite all the inconveniences, a silver lining of the pandemic is that they were able to add more programs.

“The pandemic has given us opportunities to provide more programs to the region than we have in the past because we’re able to do things virtually that we didn’t realize was possible and our faculty and staff have been super creative in making sure that they can deliver that programming,” Lynch said. “We’re looking forward to adding more offerings in the future out to our regional campuses.”

Lynch said with the vaccine rollout, she is looking forward to having students go back to in-person classes.