limitless learning

🕔Aug 04, 2005

It’s getting easier for northerners to earn a university degree without heading south. Thanks to a number of post-secondary programs, students here no longer have to leave their jobs, friends and family behind to attend school.

The University of Northern B.C. (UNBC) is one post-secondary institution that has created a series of regional campuses. Last year, more than 100 students attended classes in or near their hometowns.

“Many people cannot—or will not—leave their communities to pursue higher education,” said Judith Lapadat, UNBC’s regional chair. “We heard from the beginning that people want courses where they live.”

Rising tuition and living costs, as well as expenses incurred with travelling elsewhere to pursue a higher education, can put an even higher burden on northern-based post-secondary students. By offering students a place to study close to home, UNBC, Simon Fraser University (SFU), the University of British Columbia (UBC), Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a (WWN), and Northwest Community College (NWCC) provide alternatives.

For students living on the Queen Charlottes, Northwest Community College (NWCC) opened a campus in Masset this summer. On June 24, the school began a part-time program in Business Administration. Ten students have already applied for the program, which has a capacity of 30.

“The campus in Masset was established in response to community demand,” NWCC spokesperson Holly-Anne Burrows wrote in an e-mail. “[Our] mission is to meet the educational needs of the northwest communities we serve, and through local presence in community-based campuses, we are better able to accomplish this.”

SFU’s Northwest Teacher Education Consortium (NWTEC) allows students who have either 76 credits or a Bachelor’s degree to become certified teachers. After a semester at SFU, 24 students take two courses in Terrace during May and June. They then return to Burnaby to study during July and August before ending with a practicum.

“Most of our students are residents of the North,” said NWTEC co-ordinator Kau’i Keliipio.

While based in Vancouver, UBC’s Forestry program is partly designed to help northern communities gain more control over the way their forestry resources are managed and build local economic opportunities in the process. The university is trying to generate interest in its bridging program, which allows students to attend the first two years of a forestry degree at Malaspina College in Nanaimo before transferring to Vancouver to complete their course load.

The program is the result of six months of consultation and recruitment. Gordon Prest, who at that time was the co-ordinator for UBC’s First Nations Forestry Programs, travelled throughout the Northwest last summer. He visited Prince Rupert, Bella Bella, Haida Gwaii and other areas to promote the program and pique interest among northern high-school students.

“We’re trying to address the issue of decreasing enrolment in resource programs,” said Pamela Perreault, Prest’s replacement and the program’s new co-ordinator.

Although the program is organized through the faculty’s First Nations Forestry program, it is open to all applicants—Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. Its first intake of students was last September.

“Students can attend college closer to home,” said Perreault. “It’s easier—culturally, socially and economically.”

At UNBC, programs available for northern students range from Bachelor degrees in English, First Nations Studies, Social Work or Circumpolar Studies to a Masters in Education. Courses are offered in regional centres located throughout the North—from Houston to Haida Gwaii.

“Our mission [statement says] that UNBC is in the North and for the North,” said Lapadat.

As well as being located close to home and connected to local communities, many of the new programs are designed to suit the schedules of people working here. In Masset, students can attend NWCC’s Business Administration program on a part-time basis.

Online learning is another tool used by the programs to help facilitate new programs. In Masset, NWCC offers some of its courses online. UNBC’s program uses audio-visual technology and online courses in order to give students in more remote communities access to professors and other students. For example, the core components of its Circumpolar Studies program are done online, with web-based, international forums held between professors and students from around the circumpolar north—from Finland and Norway to Canada.

Along with utilizing online technology, some programs specifically address the needs and interests of First Nations students.

“There’s a growing demand for First Nations resource professionals,” said Perrault, noting that forestry is a growing field for many Aboriginal youth.

One institution, the Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a (WWN) in New Aiyansh, provides academic, vocational, technical, and continuing adult education to the Nisga’a people, and to others enrolled in WWN courses. Working in a First Nations cultural setting, the institution recognizes Nisga’a traditional laws and practices, as well as the wisdom of Nisga’a elders.

SFU’s NWTEC is focused on accommodating First Nations learners. In response to the high number of First Nations children in the school system, one of its goals is to engage them in relevant curriculum. This will develop a broader base of teachers who are familiar with Aboriginal culture and content.

“Our students—Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal—will be better educators in terms of integrating First Nations content,” said Keliipio. “Non-First Nations teachers need to be adept, informed and involved in an infusion of First Nations content.”

UNBC also offers courses that might be of interest to First Nations learners. These include several programs in First Nations Studies (including a Masters degree), an Educational Diploma in Nisga’a or Tsimshian language and culture, and an Aboriginal Teacher Education program.

“Some Aboriginal families have very strong family ties and obligations,” said Lapadat. “[Our programs allow] students to stay close to their families.”

Lapadat encourages people of Aboriginal background who are interested in Aboriginal Education to apply to UNBC.

“The program helps bridge students into their first post-secondary learning experience,” she said.

One of the goals of UBC’s Forestry bridging program is to help students integrate into university life. As long as a student is accepted into Malaspina college, she or he is automatically enrolled in UBC upon reaching third year.

“It takes the pressure off of applying to first year at UBC,” said Perrault.

At the same time, the bridging program is just as challenging as the one taken by students at UBC’s main campus. Faculty members co-ordinate the learning material and ensure that it meets the academic requirements of both institutions. Lapadat said that UNBC’s standards are high regardless of where courses are held.

“The quality of courses and expectations are the same as in Prince George,” she said.

As for the future, the different institutions always welcome ideas for new programs. UNBC offers courses that are suggested by members of the community. For example, in Smithers students can take a third-year English course.

“If there is the demand in the community, we’ll look into it and get [the course],” said Lapadat. “Our aim is to develop programs that do what people need and want.”

While still relatively new, NWCC’s Masset campus is planning to work with local bands, community groups and individuals to develop education programming that suits the academic and personal interests of the community. This includes distance education courses in Business Technology and Accounting as well as individual university credit courses.

“NWCC works closely with community organizations to help identify and deliver
relevant educational opportunities,” wrote Burrows. “As these needs are identified, and there is enough student demand to enable a program to run, the college will
fill the request.”

UBC hopes to implement more bridging programs in the North. Perreault said the Faculty of Forestry is presently holding discussions with NWCC, the College of New Caledonia and Northern Lights College.

“The Faculty is looking to establish a closer relationship with the North,” said Perrault. “We hope to set up a bridging program for the North and the Interior. That would be ideal for us.”