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Declining enrolment impacts Ontario colleges

A recent report on the fiscal sustainability of Ontario colleges states that if colleges make no effort to increase revenue and decrease costs, they could be facing an overall debt of $1.9 billion by 2024-25.

The report, by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) Canada, states that there are four main factors that need to be considered for change. These factors are grant funding, domestic tuition, labour costs, and international enrolment. Because of the overall increase in costs and a decrease in enrolment, colleges are facing several issues.

“Given the size of the projected deficits, there is likely no single measure that colleges and policymakers can realistically take to ensure their future fiscal sustainability,”  the report states.

Consultants with PwC Canada are suggesting that colleges act aggressively and make a variety of changes to balance the budget. PwC suggests government support be increased in the form of grant funding.

An annual rate of 2.1 per cent is suggested for grant funding, while a 6.2 per cent increase on domestic tuition fees is proposed. PwC also suggests that there be a decrease in staffing levels of 13.1 per cent  by 2024-25.

Because fewer domestic students are choosing to attend colleges, schools will need to increase international student enrolment annually by 7.1 per cent, the report mentions.

The projection is far worse for smaller colleges generally in rural areas, such as Loyalist College.

President of Loyalist College, Dr. Ann Marie Vaughan says that what Loyalist and other similar colleges need, “is a small, northern and rural grant.”

“There needs to be a certain stability in funding in order to be able to offer a program mix, for us to look at new programs, to shift our programs to constantly ensure that we are current and we’re offering students opportunities that are going to lead to employment,” Dr. Vaughan said.

It is apparent that fewer students are choosing rural schools and that more young people are following the trend of urbanization.

Heather Williams, the president of the student government at Loyalist, suggests that one reason why fewer students are choosing schools such as Loyalist is that “students may feel that there is a lack of opportunities in rural areas.”

Williams says that this could affect the small city of Belleville.

“It will likely have a negative impact on local businesses as well as local manufacturers who rely on skilled trade workers.”

Dr. Vaughan agrees that fewer students at Loyalist would have a large impact on the area.

“If you look at Loyalist, it has a real direct correlation to the regional economy and almost everywhere I go I meet Loyalist graduates. A decrease in enrolment is going to put less graduates in to fill necessary positions within the local economy,” she says.

Over 60 per cent of graduates from Loyalist stay in the region.

Domestic enrolment at small colleges like Loyalist has been steadily decreasing since 2009-10. The report says that colleges in the north are more likely to see a greater decline in enrolment between the years 2015-2025, unlike colleges located in the GTA,  who are expected to see a small increase of 0.6 per cent. Northern colleges will see an anticipated decline of 16.8 per cent.

Because a certain amount of a colleges funding is from grants from the provincial government, a decline in students enrolling from Ontario will lead to less grant funding.

In small colleges, in 2014-15, the domestic student population was 27,109. In 2024-25, it is projected to be 24,341, a -1.1 per cent change, according to the report.

On the other side of things, there will be a 2 per cent increase in international students at all colleges.

“We have to look at program delivery in order to be able to find opportunities for students that wouldn’t traditionally have been in our catch like international students and students from other parts of the country that might be thinking about Loyalist. I think we need to broaden our perspective and how we recruit,” Dr. Vaughan says.

The future for Ontario colleges is not looking bright if things do not change but Loyalist College is working towards a better future.

Dr. Vaughan stated that Loyalist has been working hard to collaborate with other colleges, as well as thinking differently about how Loyalist is delivering programs.

“Long term stability will mean an infusion of extra resources but I’m happy to say that we have efficiently looked at how we can do things while not compromising the service to the student,” Dr. Vaughan said.

“It’s wonderful to see that through this difficult time we have still maintained our complete focus on the student and that’s essential no matter what’s happening.”

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