Town makes move for potential return of post-secondary education

·5 min read

Anyone hoping to upgrade, upskill, or re-skill their education levels could soon be doing that locally through the Northern Lakes College (NLC).

Hinton’s Council supported the development of a pilot project to recruit post-secondary education to Hinton with NLC.

The Town is contributing $5,000 in seed funding from the existing 2021 Economic Development budget to support a joint marketing initiative between the Town of Hinton and NLC, a distance learning college.

The Town will also apply for grants to support the recruitment of a post secondary institution.

The virtual services offered in the pilot project with NLC would still require students to do hands-on in-class training for certain courses.

“Health care aide will require an in-hospital or in-senior care home training. That would bring people physically to Hinton,” said Winston Rossouw, Hinton’s engineering and development services manager, during the regular council meeting on April 6.

Hinton would become the hub during the pilot project. Students located in Hinton could complete their practical work locally and would likely be employed locally in the future, said Rossouw.

Another benefit is that industries looking to re-skill and upskill can do that right on their premises.

“You could use your existing high school shops depending on the capacity, and you don’t need more bricks and mortar. But you can use existing bricks and mortar,” he said.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn said one major reason for his support is that one goal identified within the report is to eventually have a physical education facility.

“Being involved in education, I firmly believe a sustainable education project in the community needs to involve a bricks and mortar. That being said, that’s a long time out, we grow big things by starting out small,” he said.

Hinton has the potential to be the education hub for a number of communities surrounding the area, he added. He believes it is important to eventually develop a nice facility for this hub.

“Put yourself in the shoes of an 18, 19, 20-year-old student. When you’re looking for a college, you aren’t looking for who has the best telepresence, you’re looking for who has the flashy campus, you go to a campus to visit and see and feel what the social aspect is, what the feel physically of the location is. That’s what sells campuses, otherwise you wouldn’t have students going on tours to different campuses across the country and province,” Maguhn said.

Administration has been in conversations with NLC since February 2021 and explored the

possibility of pursuing a virtual pilot post secondary education arrangement.

Depending on a joint marketing campaign during summer 2021, the likelihood of onboarding local students with virtual programs commencing in September could be a reality, according to administration’s report.

“The goal soon is to have a community coordinator in Hinton and possibly a bricks and mortar campus if demand warrants it,” the report stated.

Rossouw added that NLC has the experience and the understanding of what the needs of the community would be.

NLC gets in with the community members, creates a committee, and figures out what programs the community needs. They can write programs within four to eight weeks to meet those needs, said Rossouw.

Several post secondary institutions in Alberta have the ability to provide small training cohorts tailored specifically to the local needs of industry.

Students can use the programs as a stepping stone to move onto other universities and transfer their credits from NLC into a University of Alberta, MacEwan, or University of Calgary program.

Many programs offer dual credit opportunities, allowing high school students to receive credit for college-level courses while still in high school.

The pilot project would assist existing businesses for ongoing staff development and training as well as become a business attraction tool for those considering starting or expanding their local businesses.

“Local post secondary institutions typically provide three key benefits to a community– human capital development, labour market development and intellectual capital development,” stated administration’s report.

Long term post secondary institutions also increase salaries in communities, which generates more disposable income for residents and increased sales for local businesses, it said.

NLC assists 5000 students annually through its Supported Distance Learning (SDL) model to continue their education and improve their employment opportunities.

In collaboration with business, industry, and other post secondary institutions in Northern Alberta, NLC has established itself in Fox Creek and Drayton Valley.

The last post-secondary education provider in Hinton was Grand Prairie Regional College (GPRC), who announced in May 2020 that they would not reopen their physical location in Hinton but continue to offer online programming.

The GPRC Hinton Learning Centre closed to the public in March 2020 when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The provincial government announced earlier in 2020 that all post-secondary institutions would see a decrease in their Campus Alberta Grants, which meant a 13 per cent reduction in the 2020-21 budget year for GPRC. As a result, GPRC reduced expenditures from $73M in 2019-20 to $65M in 2020-21.

Prior to GPRC, the Hinton Campus had Norquest College and Grant MacEwan College as legal hosts.

Hinton had some form of post secondary education since 1982 when Yellowhead Regional Education Consortium (YREC) was initiated.

Classes have been brokered from the University of Alberta, MacEwan University, N.A.I.T., Norquest College, Keyano College, GPRC, and Northern Lake College.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice