Houston is now one of 22 locations in the region where post secondary courses are being offered online without the need for people to move to larger centres.
It’s a collaboration called Contact North B.C. between an Ontario-based organization called Contact North and Coast Mountain College thanks to a $1.5 million initial provincial grant.
And in Houston, the online program has a physical home through a classroom at Houston Secondary School equipped with computers to better connect students with their courses as needed.
“One person works at the Contact North centre in Houston to assist students with selecting and registering for courses and with any support they need as far as technology goes as well as access to support programming,” said Heather Bastin from Coast Mountain College of the Contact North B.C. presence in Houston.
Aside from the courses themselves, students have access to tutors, other people who serve as mentors and can explore work experience as needed.
While Coast Mountain College is the on-the-ground connection in the northwest, students are not limited to taking courses from the college.
“All together we have more than 2,300 course registrations — 67 per cent of these are in Coast Mountain College courses, and the rest are with institutions around B.C.,” said Bastin.
So far, between five and 10 local residents have been taking advantage of Contact North B.C. and the college wants to expand that number.
School District 54 school superintendent Michael McDiarmid affirmed the district’s belief in expanding educational offerings in Houston.
“We continue to partner with them because we believe supporting adults furthering their education in Houston is an ongoing need in the community,” he said of the college.
The district already has trades training and dual credit course partnerships with the college, one being an introduction to health care.
“We have found these partnerships to be invaluable to offer students courses and programs that would otherwise be unavailable to them. As a district running relatively small high schools, it is very difficult to offer diverse and more specialized programs such as these without post secondary support,” he said.
For Coast Mountain College, the Contact North project brings it the opportunity to once again have a presence in the community.
Houston and area is on the eastern edge of the college coverage area but it closed its Houston campus several years ago when student enrolment fell below what was financially viable.
The District of Houston council and others have since then been urging the college to reconsider.
That has had an impact as the college is now planning for a full-on in-person return to Houston by offering a program teaching students the essentials of running a business office.
College officials have now prepared an indepth plan for the program and have submitted it to the provincial advanced education ministry for financial approval.