Fleming College gets failing grade from students impacted by deep program cuts

‘I am stuck in this position of taking programs I didn’t want to do at all.’

By Geoff Coleman

Owen McIsaac is a part-time Fleming student whose plans have been disrupted. Photo: Geoff Coleman.

On April 24, Fleming College announced the suspension of a staggering 15 programs at Lindsay’s Frost Campus for admission in fall of 2024, leaving only 13 courses on offer.

It was a trickledown decision after the federal government created a new cap for international students with a 35 per cent reduction. This, after data increasingly showed the impact growing numbers of international students were having on an already tight housing market, along with high interest rates.

According to college president, Maureen Adamson, the cancelled courses were dropped because “some have low projected domestic enrollment, others have zero projected domestic enrollment, and other programs are no longer financially sustainable with enrollment levels that do not cover the cost of delivery.”

She went on to say that “no current students are affected by these decisions.”

However, that statement is simply not accurate, given the number of students who have stepped forward to the Advocate to tell their story. It is not unusual for a student to change their courses after finding the first year wasn’t exactly what they were hoping for. So, if a student decided to switch from one course to another prior to April 24, they now might not have classes to attend in the fall.

Several programs marketed at a Fleming College open house just prior to the announcements, such as the Fish and Wildlife Technologist postgraduate program, Urban Forestry program, and Environmental Technician program, were among those cancelled.

Additionally, Fleming usually offers post graduate courses that give students a further designation – an upgrade from technician to technologist, for example. Some students had finished a two-year course, and were already accepted into the separate, one-year program when they learned the extra course was cancelled.

That was the case for Emily Wakeham who made an impassioned deposition last month in front of a Kawartha Lakes Committee of the Whole meeting, looking for support from the City to somehow stay the execution of Frost Campus courses.

Wakeham learned she was accepted to her chosen program on March 1, and on April 26 was told the course was cancelled. “My plan was to continue here for another year to take the Environmental Technology program, the continuation of the technician diploma. However, the program was suspended after my acceptance. I never would have come to Fleming if I had known I wouldn’t be able to take a third year.”

Along with the notice of course suspension she was offered admittance to Advanced Water Systems Operations and Management. However, “that program has no relevance to the one I was accepted to, nor does it offer any certifications that I did not already attain from my completed Environmental Technician program.”

Owen McIsaac is a part-time student who had planned on moving on to Ecosystem Management Technology after finishing the technician course. “There really isn’t any other program like it and it would have provided the means necessary to excel in my field. When it was cancelled, my backup was to go into Urban Forestry but that was also suspended.”

He says his “only option at the college” is Forestry Techniques which is much more expensive and not oriented specifically toward what he wanted to do.

“I don’t see switching colleges as feasible for personal reasons, so I am stuck in this position of taking programs I didn’t want to do at all.”

Fleming College’s Frost Campus, Lindsay.

Even students who chose to attend other schools in the province that run these suspended classes, face the stress of last-minute applications and sudden additional expenses. And they need to find a place to live, which creates a whole new set of problems.

Allen Kwan was enrolled in the Conservation Enforcement Law course when it was canned. He was offered admission to the Border Security program instead. “I planned on renting the same room in Lindsay and continuing to work as the head bartender at Frost. When I got the notice of cancellation I applied to Natural Resources Law at Sault College.”

While Fleming lost Kwan as a student, he is now working at the fire management headquarters in Sioux Lookout for the summer. “I have to drive 12 hours to Sault Ste. Marie just to look at rooms.”

Already having a place to live doesn’t mean you are free of problems Fleming student Suzanne Mooser explains. “I was planning on returning to the Environmental Technology program, so I actually signed a year-long lease and moved into that house already. I know everyone I’m living with, as well as many other people in the (now-suspended) technology programs are in the same boat.”

Another student who didn’t want to be identified says, “the housing crisis affects everyone. Every student knows you must act fast and secure housing early in the year for the following school year. I waited as long as I could to re-sign my lease. Especially since we were all led to believe that everything would run as normal for the following school year. That is $7,000 gone in rent if I cannot find another female student to take over my lease. I am not sure who has that kind of money to throw away.” Not to mention the hassle of physically moving.

Colleges are certainly facing their own monetary challenges. Partly in response to Laurentian University’s financial collapse, the Ontario government in 2023 assembled a panel of experts to provide the minister of Colleges and Universities with advice and recommendations to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of Ontario’s publicly assisted post-secondary schools.

In terms of funding, they found that college nominal operating grants have risen from $6,615 per student in 2008 to $7,365 in 2021. That’s about an 11 per cent increase in 13 years, so government funding versus the pace of inflation is certainly an issue. In fact, that $7,365 figure amounts to only 44 per cent of what provincial grants provide on average in the rest of Canada.

A new set of financial challenges appeared in 2019 when Ontario first reduced domestic student tuition by 10 per cent, and then imposed a cost freeze that continues today.

Unable to raise the price of admission, colleges looked to other sources of revenue. The panel leaned into an auditor general’s value-for-money audit of Ontario’s public colleges that noted, “as a consequence of the low level of provincial funding, colleges are increasingly reliant on international students’ tuition fees to remain financially sustainable.”

Nowhere was that more severe than in Ontario, where underfunding to colleges has been a longstanding issue. These temporary measures will be in place for two years, and the number of new study permit applications for 2025 will be reassessed at the end of this year.

There is also a misalignment between international graduates and the needs of the Canadian economy. From 2018-2023, 27 per cent of international students enrolled in business or marketing related courses. Only 5 per cent took Health Sciences, and a meagre 1.25 per cent chose Trades/Vocational courses.

For their part, faculty and support staff are disappointed in the college’s unwillingness to find alternative solutions to program cuts.

Fleming College President Maureen Adamson.

In a joint response, Liz Mathewson (president of the faculty OPSEU Local 352) and Marcia Steeves (president of the support staff Local 351) said, “With such high turnover being experienced in administrative roles in the past few years, the knowledge and expertise of our programs rests with the faculty and staff which leadership is not acknowledging, nor utilizing to seek solutions. You only need to look back to 2020 when the college responded to COVID and successfully transformed the college experience as a result of a transparent and collaborative approach led by the expertise of both faculty and support staff.”

They also pointed out that because of previous cuts, 42 course suspensions have now been issued in the last 12 months. Despite language in both collective agreements that address lay-offs and involuntary transfers, they expect employment instability.

But the ones with the most to lose remain the young people facing an uncertain future. Emily Wakeham summed up the student situation succinctly saying, “This has completely interrupted our educational careers. And, these sudden changes have affected students in other ways as well. We have signed year-long leases, turned down job prospects, and haven’t applied to other programs as our assumption was that our acceptances would be honoured by the college.”

7 Comments

  1. Wallace says:

    Hey young people , what are you complaining about ? Timmys ,Walmart and Dollarama are always hiring. This is Canada, where there are thousands of minimum wage jobs available. I hope you don’t mind living with your parents for the rest of your lives. Keep voting liberal for more of the same.

    • Nicole says:

      Hey Wallace! The chronic underfunding and tuition freeze in a conservative thing!!

      • Wallace says:

        Hey Nicole! The collapse of Canada, and western society in general , is a liberal thing !!

        • C. Wilson says:

          Considering the number of services the Conservatives have cancelled, no, it’s not a LIberal thing. But Dougie’s top agenda is expanding the booze shops. And of course, pushing through his highway expansion so his friends can profit from the land the pre-bought in anticipation.

          • Wallace says:

            C.Wilson — have you forgotten that Trudeaus number one priority was to legalize pot ? And perhaps you haven’t noticed what is going on in every western nation , on earth, that has been ruled by liberals for the past 5 -10 years. Kinda hard to blame Ford for that.

  2. Catherine (Cathie) Dunk says:

    It seems logical to cancel programs related to fisheries, wildlife and forestry because at the rate we’re stripping the ground bare to build houses, pave highways and create general urban sprawl there won’t be and fish, wildlife or trees needing a technician.

  3. D'Arcy McGee says:

    The reality is foreign students were the lifeblood of a lot of community colleges & phony storefront colleges. The high tuition fees gave colleges additional revenue to provide sustainability. The problem was a lot of foreign students were taking “bird courses” to get a certificate, that in turn would enable them to get a working visa here. The feds stepped in to curb this practice,& the result is a lot of the sham colleges have or will disappear, & our actual community colleges & students are paying the price.. Time for both levels of government to improve the funding programs for these institutions.

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