Dr. Denise K. Henning speaks at a forum on priority planning for Northwest Community College in Houston on Oct. 26.

College holds forum to choose priorities

Facing a tight-budget future, Northwest Community College is turning to the public to help it narrow its priorities.

Facing a tight-budget future, Northwest Community College is turning to the public to help it narrow its priorities.

“We have hard decisions to make,” said Dr. Denise K. Henning, the college president and CEO. “Post-secondary education can no longer do business as it has in the past.”

Dr. Henning said that some economists predict that a shrinking global economy and an ageing population could mean that 30 to 35 per cent of post-secondary institutions will shut down by 2025.

Answering questions Oct. 26 at an all-day planning forum in the Houston Seniors Activity Centre, Dr. Henning did not sugar-coat her words.

“I’m going to be honest—we’re in about a $1.7 million deficit,” she said. “The bottom line is we will be doing business within it, narrowing our focus, broadening the depth.”

At a recent meeting of the B.C. finance committee, NWCC Vice President David O’Leary said the college is facing a 74 per cent drop in base funding.

Coupled with a reduction in funding from B.C.’s Industry Training Authority, the college’s annual capital cost allowance has gone from $827,000 to $215,00 a year since 2009, he said.

“The college has had to undertake extraordinary measures to continue to meet the range of programs and services required by our population,” O’Leary said. “We don’t have the capacity to provide even minimal maintenance with the funds we currently receive.”

To do well in that tough fiscal environment, Dr. Henning said NWCC has to stay relevant to people in the northwest.

“We have to meet students where they are,” she said.

Last year, the average student at NWCC was 28 years old and had three children, she added—not the typical image of a college kid fresh out of high school.

At its Houston campus, the college will hold training for road builders and heavy equipment operators starting in January and this spring—examples of the sort of industry-focused training the college wants to continue.

“You will see a lot of change,” Dr. Henning said. “We will be working side by side with business and industry, and our sister institutions because that’s where efficiencies are created and more is possible.”

Called “Together This Way Forward,” the priority-planning exercise will tour 15 northwest communities before it wraps up. The result will be a college plan for 2012 to 2017.

Anyone who missed the live forums can complete a survey at www.nwcc.bc.ca. The survey will remain online until early December.