Northwest Community College is on the verge of cutting the number of university credit classes it offers at its main campus locations of Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers.
And, in Smithers, it could mean the end of face-to-face classroom instruction.
The result will also mean fewer university credit instructors being employed at the college.
College communications director Sarah Zimmerman said no decisions have been made but that the college needs to respond to budget pressures and lower enrolments specifically in its academic programs.
“What we’re trying to do is minimize the impact,” she said of everything from offering early retirement incentives and voluntary severance packages to instructors to combining classes where it makes sense to do so.
A number of instructors have already been given notices of at least partial layoffs in accordance with union contracts, said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was responding to an April 2 release by the Northwest Community College Students’ Union which indicated college officials were about to cut up to 40 university courses – 15 in Prince Rupert, 6 in Terrace, and 14 in Smithers.
Since there are only 14 courses being offered in Smithers, it would mean the end of classroom instruction there, said the union.
“The one place locals can start a post-secondary education in our region is Northwest Community College,” said students’ union chair Steve Verblac in criticizing the college’s plan.
Trades and other programs, so far, have not been affected.
Zimmerman did not confirm nor deny the numbers released by the students’ union but said in places such as Smithers, alternatives to direct classroom instruction are possible.
“To say that we won’t be offering instruction in Smithers isn’t true. We’re going to ensure there are options for our students,” she said.
The college already offers classes through closed-circuit viewing in which students in one community are taught by an instructor in another community.
What the college must do is match its course offerings with the enrolment it has and with the needs of its students, said Zimmerman.
There has been a drop in academic program enrolment, a circumstance that could have been caused by the demand for workers on large scale industrial projects in the past several years.
But with large projects such as Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter rebuilding project winding down, there might be renewed interest in going to college, said Zimmerman.
She said an exact budget picture isn’t available but that a proposed spending plan will be put to the college’s board this month in Smithers.
“At that point the board will then develop its plan,” she said.
Any course offering reduction and loss of employees is difficult, Zimmerman added.
“This is not an exercise anyone takes pleasure in doing,” she said.