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While summer enrolment is strong, Algoma U examines uncertain fall session

University hopes 'local students want to stay local this year,' says president
File photo. James Hopkin/SooToday

Keeping an eye on spending, delaying planned hires, and analyzing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on student enrolment, the Algoma University board of governors approved a balanced $43.3 million operating budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year at its Thursday meeting.

Travel restrictions, caused by government-imposed COVID-19 measures and affecting applications from international students (upon which Algoma heavily relies), along with uncertainty as to when face-to-face teaching and learning will resume, forced Algoma to cut an original 2020-2021 enrolment forecast of 2,300 full-time students by 24 per cent to an enrolment of 1,739 full-time students in formulating its budget.

Asima Vezina, Algoma’s president and vice chancellor, says the institution is seriously focusing on student retention heading into the spring/summer session.

Vezina told the board Algoma has surpassed revised spring/summer enrolment projections (spring/summer instruction to be solely online) with 266 full time students expected.

At this time last year, Algoma’s spring/summer full time enrolment was at 284.

“We’re feeling quite confident that we can probably reach that same place as last’s a fairly healthy spring enrollment for Algoma,” Vezina said.

However, Vezina added “there’s still uncertainty about the fall” concerning not only international, but also domestic student enrolment.

“We’re hoping that local students want to stay local this year,” Vezina told the board.

Vezina said “about 20 students” from overseas have started their studies with Algoma beginning with the upcoming spring session.

Close to 300 international students have laid down their deposits for the 2020-2021 academic year, Vezina said.

Despite the uncertainty, the university is enthused about the Algoma Connect Program (ACP), which will offer math tutoring in May and June for all students in Grade 11 and 12 at Algoma District School Board (ADSB) and Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB) high schools, followed by academic upgrading in literacy and numeracy courses in July and August for Grade 11 and 12 students wishing to continue studies at Algoma.

The program is held in partnership between Algoma, the two school boards and the Mathematics Knowledge Network.

“The purpose of the ACP is to give back to the community, offering a structured means for students to improve their academic skills before entering postsecondary. We see a lot of benefits to this program,” said David Marasco, Algoma University registrar, speaking to the board.

Marasco said Algoma, moving forward, could extend the program next year to include Grade 11 and 12 students from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, given the presence of Algoma University’s Brampton campus in the GTA.

There was no shortage of interest in people applying to be tutors within the program, said Darren Vaughan, Algoma University academic success advisor, addressing the board.

“We had just under 100 applicants for the program so we shortlisted it to 16 and actually hired nine.”

Algoma Connect Program representatives have weekly stakeholders meetings with both local English language school boards and the Mathematics Knowledge Network.

“I think we’re really filling a gap here with this tutoring, especially with mathematics for the Grade 11 and 12 high school students...the boards are, I think, ‘over the moon’ about the program,” Vaughan said.  

The program comes at a time when Sault Grade 12 students, along with their counterparts provincewide, are wrapping up their final high school year online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’ll continue to support those students coming into their first year of university,” Vezina said.