P.E.I.'s francophone college considering big move

·5 min read
Collège de l'Île has operated out of Wellington, in P.E.I.'s francophone Evangeline region, since it opened in 1993. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)
Collège de l'Île has operated out of Wellington, in P.E.I.'s francophone Evangeline region, since it opened in 1993. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)

Prince Edward Island's francophone college is considering closing its campus in Wellington and opening one in Summerside.

Collège de l'Île has operated out of Wellington, in P.E.I.'s francophone Evangeline region, since it opened in 1993.

But college officials say the Charlottetown campus, which opened in 2012, is already at capacity, and a secondary campus in a more urban setting like Summerside would better suit students.

College president Donald DesRoches said the board is considering a couple of options in Summerside, one a rental and one a new build.

He said international student enrolment is growing, and the majority of those students prefer to stay in Charlottetown where housing, jobs and transportation are more accessible.

That's meant extra pressure on the Charlottetown campus, where there isn't enough room to accommodate all students, leaving some to learn remotely from home.

"The international students find it very difficult here in Wellington," said DesRoches, raising two main concerns.

"One is that if they want to live in the Wellington region, housing is very difficult to find as it would be in most of Prince Edward Island. A second factor would be that most of the jobs that international students would be taking would be in businesses that would be in the city."

'The clear choice of students'

DesRoches said the college must either expand its Charlottetown campus or open something new elsewhere.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

He said Summerside, with its growing francophone population, greater availability of housing, work and transportation, and access to the Evangeline region for francophone on-the-job training, would be an ideal next move.

He said even if the college does close its campus in Wellington, connections with the Evangeline region would be maintained to allow students to do work placements in a francophone setting.

"We had surveyed students from Prince County, both French immersion and French first-language, to see if we were to have one campus in Prince County, where should it be?" said DesRoches. "And the clear choice of students in Prince County was Summerside, even for students from the Evangeline region."

We're certainly sensitive to the fact that we are a significant employer here in the region and there's a symbolic importance to having the college here. — Donald DesRoches

He said currently of the almost 50 students enrolled locally in Collège de l'Île programs this year, only a handful are taking courses at the Wellington campus on average, less than one day per week.

Commuting to Wellington from Charlottetown can be expensive and inconvenient for students, he said, and the main goal of a campus in Summerside would be to have space and services to accommodate more students in one secondary location.

"If we were to have a full campus in Summerside, that would allow all of the students to participate," he said.

"It is a much more dynamic environment when you have all of the students together in one space where they're learning, they're sharing."

'College plays a significant role'

DesRoches said a potential move to Summerside is something the college's board has been contemplating for several years and he can appreciate how closing the campus in Wellington would affect that community.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

"We're still in discussions as well with the municipality here in Wellington," said DesRoches. "We're certainly sensitive to the fact that we are a significant employer here in the region and there's a symbolic importance to having the college here."

But Wellington Mayor Alcide Bernard said having students occasionally work in the area wouldn't mitigate the overall loss to his community.

"We really think the college plays a significant role, and basically by being in the community it encourages people to not only come and study here but probably to stay in this community," Bernard said.

He said not all students want to live in urban areas, and believes that maintaining a rural campus could be seen as a bonus for some prospective students.

"It might not have all the bars that you have in Charlottetown, but at least you've got the basics," said Bernard. "I think if you presented to students at least they have an option, then they would have an option to pick a community that cares about them and has services as opposed to going in an urban setting."

He said as a major tenant in one of the town's main buildings, the college's departure would put the local economic development group in a tough spot.

"It's especially tough knowing that they've been looking and planning this, probably at least seriously looking at it, for the last three or four years," said Bernard.

Next moves

He said he looks forward to meeting with college officials soon to get a better understanding of the challenges and if there's anything his municipality can do to keep the college in Wellington.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

"We feel that it has the potential to develop here, given the right resources," said Bernard.

"All we want is the success of the college. We feel that there is strong connections in this area with what they do, what they accomplish. And we think there would be a lot to lose, especially from our community, but a lot to lose we think also for the college by moving," he said.

Officials with Collège de l'Île said meetings are ongoing with the municipalities of both Wellington and Summerside and will eventually expand to include provincial and federal governments.

DesRoches said the final decision will come from the college's board of directors, of which he is a member. He said at this point, despite the school's historic connection to Wellington, his own vote is for a new Summerside campus.

"These transitions are always difficult, but we have to make sure that we provide the best learning environment possible for our students," said DesRoches.

"In my estimation, that's with a campus in Summerside."

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