School’s in: Students return in droves to higher learning

By Kirk Winter

Students at Fleming College. File photo.

Undergraduate application statistics provided via e-mail by Deanna Underwood, manager of communications and events, at the Ontario Universities Application Centre show that 2021 could be a very busy year for universities right across the province.

After a dip in total applications from 2019 to 2020 of almost 10,000 in total, likely caused by COVID-19 concerns, numbers of applications for 2021 are close to 710,000 — a new record for Ontario universities.

Locally, both Fleming College and Trent University are seeing similarly strong uptake in student interest.

Trent University, with campuses in Peterborough and Durham Region, and Fleming College, with campuses in Peterborough, Lindsay and Haliburton, were expecting a return to normal enrollment levels.

Fleming president Maureen Adamson said enrolment at the Lindsay campus will be back to prepandemic levels, although there are no guarantees. “There are still many variables at play as circumstances are evolving rapidly,” said Adamson.

“We expect many students will be making last-minute decisions. We have had between 1,400 and 1,700 students at the Frost campus over the past few years and we expect that range this school year.”

Adamson said that while online programs work for many students, “most want the full on-campus experience and we look forward to a gradual return to that.”

There’s also good news when it comes to the all-important cohort of international students all Ontario post-secondary institutions are working hard to attract.

“International enrolment has increased compared to the last two years at Frost. Demand remains strong. Applications from international students are up significantly over 2020,”Adamson said.

Those numbers are important to the college because post-secondary institutions typically charge foreign students many times the cost of tuition a domestic student pays.

There is still some uncertainty about when international travel restrictions will be loosened, Adamson said. “We have many protocols in place for the safe arrival for all students.”

While Trent will not have a definite count of students until November, Cara Walsh of the university’s communications department told the Advocate it is projecting an increase in enrolment for both domestic and international students for fall 2021.

As for online learning, Walsh said the university is planning “for full in-person learning at both of our campuses in Peterborough and Durham GTA,” this fall. “We are also continuing to expand our online course options so those who wish to take some courses remotely can.”

Walsh said she expects that Trent’s number of international students will at least equal if not surpass the 1,070 who took classes in 2020.

With students likely to not only be in class but also in residence this month, both schools are making it very clear that without one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine students will not be able to live in residence on campus.

Adamson said that anecdotally, the response to Fleming’s insistence on student vaccinations “has been very positive. Students and parents are generally very pleased with the policy, and we have seen many other institutions introduce the same requirements recently.”

Adamson said the vaccine mandate for residence occupancy is supported by the local health unit, and that the policy “will provide a sense of safety and peace of mind to students, their families and the wider community.”

The same is true at Trent, Walsh said. “As we plan for the full return to in-person learning at both our campuses this fall, Trent University will require students living in residence to have received at least the first dose, and if possible, two doses, before move-in day.”

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