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Portage College seeks collaboration with municipalities to grow opportunities

Working with municipalities and other post-secondary institutions, Portage College hopes to bring a degree nursing program to the Lakeland, as well as grow a handful of diploma programs into four-year degrees.
Portage College
The Portage College expansion is a top priority for the post-secondary school institution.

BONNYVILLE – One thing seems to be clear – training and educating people in the communities where they are needed may be the best way to fill higher skilled jobs and keep trained professionals in the region, this is according to a presentation given to the Town of Bonnyville’s council by Portage College. 

On April 26, Nancy Broadbent, the president and CEO of Portage College, and Robin Tizzard, a dean at the Cold Lake campus, spoke to Town council about the school’s plans for expansion and highlighted possible areas for collaboration with the municipality. 

Their view is if people can receive a higher level education locally, those professionals will be more likely to stay within the community to fill positions in desperate need of trained workers. 

The programs Portage College has expanded and is looking to grow include offering a degree program for nursing, social work and education, as well as training for several trades' professions. 

The pair spoke to council, reinforcing their interest in sharing ideas and building a partnership with the Town. 

The college’s population has reached a total of more than 1,000 full-time and equivalent students. This student body growth comes from various program partnerships between the school and different organizations, municipalities and businesses, says Broadbent. 

Portage’s growth has also been impacted by its ability to provide and quickly ramp up online learning. 

“COVID – If there's anything that was positive about it for us, it certainly shifted the post-secondary market dramatically,” said Broadbent.  

“Our whole industry, I think is a bit on its head in terms of the percentage of dollars that historically we would have spent on infrastructure and now recognizing there are ways to meet students where they are without some of those expenses. So, we're moving on to things like high flex learning, but as we know, some students prefer to be in the classroom with the instructor and other students,” she said. “But actually, a surprising number of them prefer to tune in from home.” 

Based on a five-year average, about 63 per cent of the Bonnyville students enrolled in Portage College attend in-person, primarily at the Cold Lake Campus, compared to 19 per cent of Bonnyville students who are fully enrolled in online courses. 

In Lac La Biche, roughly 12 per cent of students are fully online, she noted. 

Portage’s top five programs at the Cold Lake Campus include college prep, which is academic upgrading, the Practical Nurse Diploma, the Early Learning and Child Care Diploma, with the last two programs related to electrical and social work courses. 

Alberta’s post-secondary future 

Broadbent also pointed to changes signalled by the provincial government to transform higher education into a more practical and hands-on form of learning.  

This transition is something Broadbent feels puts Portage is in a good position, with many collaborations already in the works to expand programming. 

Alberta 2030: Building Skill for Jobs, is a Government of Alberta initiative to transform the focus of how post-secondary institutions teach and instruct, as well as how schools source funding. 

Some examples of current and future initiatives that can be carried out by post-secondary schools on the Alberta government’s website include expanding work-integrated learning opportunities and apprenticeship education.  

Other goals the government would like to see take place within the next 10-years include establishing easily accessible, innovative, and effective learning opportunities, such as new micro-credentials, and reducing red tape and providing post-secondary institutions “with more flexibility to be entrepreneurial and grow.” 

Broadbent told council that experiential learning and work-integrated learning will likely be a main method of teaching students in the near future. 

“I would suggest that over time, students will experience less direct lecture type instruction in the classroom and a lot more project-based or work-based experience,” she said. 

Cross-institutional collaboration 

Portage College is continuing to build on integrated partnerships with other academic institutions across the province where students can complete a two-year diploma in the region and can then continue on to finish a degree program at Northern Alberta Institution of Technology (NAIT), University of Alberta, Athabasca University, or University of Calgary. 

“That gave us a lot of momentum to start working on other degree pathways,” expressed Tizzard.  

These collaborations allow students to remain local, while working towards degrees in education or social work and even natural resource technician programs, with the option of transitioning to another institution later on in their studies. 

“It's really, really powerful for our community to have degree-educated people remain in our community,” Tizzard added. 

College administrators are working with the U of C to bring a four-year social work degree to the region and are hoping to make an announcement for that program soon.  

“We've got a ton of social work students currently in programs, but also a lot of graduates in our communities that are looking for the opportunity to turn their diploma into a degree,” she said. 

Grants have also been submitted to the federal and provincial governments to bring a degree nursing program, in partnership with U of C, to the Lakeland.  

“We are hoping the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) will be signed shortly... the concept would be a bridging program. They really want nurses on the floor as soon as possible,” Tizzard emphasized. 

Municipal collaborations 

Speaking to the need for nurses and trained medical professionals in the community, Coun. Brian McEvoy said that he would be interested in doing whatever he could to help bring a bridging program for nurses to Bonnyville. 

“The RN Bridging Program has been on the table here for quite a few years,” he said. “The doctor recruitment committee that we operate between the MD of Bonnyville, Town of Bonnyville and the hospital here... have been pushing for this for years. The last one that was run here was very, very successful. And I'm looking forward to this one being as successful.” 

Before concluding the presentation, Broadbent also noted the possibility of partnering with the Town on a natural resource technician micro-credential around permaculture. 

“That includes everything from greenhouse operations and soil reclamation to waste recovery and energy biomass recovery,” she outlined. 

The organization is hoping to partner with a municipality to carry out the project alongside a group called Project Forest. 

Project Forest goes into a community and seeks grant funding to reforest agricultural areas that are less productive, and plant the original trees, shrubs and native species to re-naturalize and re-wild the area.  

The program allows for carbon capture credits to be used or sold by the host municipality. 

"What's happening in other jurisdictions are those communities are selling that and are using that to reduce their carbon costs,” Broadbent explained. 

Jazmin Tremblay

About the Author: Jazmin Tremblay

Jazmin completed a minor in journalism at Hanze University in the Netherlands and completed her Communication Studies degree from MacEwan University with a major in journalism.
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