Monday, October 23, 2017

West Shore dreamin’: Could—and should—Camosun expand to Langford?

October 4, 2017 by Felicia Santarossa, features writer

Langford is known for being one of the fastest-growing regions on Vancouver Island, if not in all of BC. As a result, many people are commuting into town from Langford for school. With the Colwood Crawl as bad as it is, the students who are commuting from West Shore to Camosun or UVic are stuck with wasted time that could be used for studying or, as Langford Mayor Stew Young says, earning some money.

There are around 3,000 Camosun College students living in the West Shore region, according to Camosun vice president of partnerships Geoff Wilmshurst (Wilmshurst includes Continuing Education students in this number). Talks have been going on between Wilmshurst and Young about the possibility of having a Camosun campus in the Langford area. It’s very important to note, says Wilmshurst, that Camosun has not spoken to the provincial government about this, and that the college has not received any kind of permission from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. This is all speculative: the college has many steps to take before actually ending up with a new campus in West Shore. Here’s a look at where everything stands so far.

Crawlin’ the Crawl

Currently, West Shore students’ only options for Camosun classes are 10 university-transferable courses—as well as eight English and Math upgrading courses—at Belmont Secondary School in Langford. The first-year courses range from Business to Psychology and have been helpful for students like Heather Coates, who is in her first year of Environmental Technology. She says she’s excited at the possibility of a campus out in Langford.

“That’d be awesome,” says Coates. “I know they have the satellite ones in Belmont, and that’s where I did an English course, and it was way easier to get there than to get out here [to Lansdowne]. It takes me an hour to get here and to get home. Sometimes it takes two, depending on traffic, because of the construction where they’re building the McKenzie Interchange.”

Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) external executive Rachael Grant says she’s “definitely heard a lot of stories” about students commuting over an hour to school from Langford. She says the commute “adds a lot to the existing demands that post-secondary brings, so anything that makes post-secondary more accessible to students is a positive thing.”

During the writing of this story, several Langford-based students expressed their dissatisfaction to Nexus about spending nearly an hour in traffic—mainly on the bus—to get to school.

“It’s quite a long commute,” says first-year Digital Communications student Meghan Denison. “This morning I had to take the 6:40 bus to be here by 8:30; it’s kind of a struggle, and the traffic is really bad.”

First-year Legal Office Assistant student Grace McKenzie says that commuting from Sooke to Camosun is a lot different from her previous commute to Belmont Secondary.

“I normally go with bus systems,” she says. “I never really figured it would take two hours to get to school because of all this traffic that happens in the morning; I’m used to going to school right next to my house.”

It’d be great for students to have a campus out in the West Shore area, McKenzie says, and the reason why comes back down to one thing: the commute.

“I think it would be great; so many people would go to it,” she says. “If there’s a campus out there, it would help a lot, because one less thing to worry about in the morning is trying to get to class [when] there’s a campus close by.”

Young wants Camosun

Young envisions a Langford Camosun campus comparable in size to the Lansdowne and Interurban campuses. He says that with close to 70,000 people in the region, West Shore is growing, and it’s at a size now where it needs a post-secondary institution.

“It’s cheaper for students, you don’t need a car to go all the way into town, sit in that traffic all of the time, and that’s part of it,” says Young, who is also hoping to get Amazon’s second headquarters stationed in Langford. “We’re seeing what’s happening with the workforce being stuck in traffic, and now when you’re a student you’re stuck in traffic, so you just never get out of that cycle. So I think it’s important for the government to recognize that when communities grow like this that we have to put education first, and we have to make sure that education is there and the opportunity is there for as many people as we can.”

Wilmshurst would also like to make it easier, if possible, for people who live in West Shore to not have to commute into town for their schooling.

“I’ve had a couple meetings with the mayor of Langford. We’ve had good discussions; we’ve talked about some of the possible ways that we could approach this,” says Wilmshurst. “I know that Mayor Young is really keen for us to be there; we’re really pleased that he’s keen about that, but we have to take it one step at a time, we have to seek all of the permissions, and we have to look at what is financially viable for Camosun to do, as well.”

The cost of a campus goes far beyond the cost of building it: staffing is a huge ongoing expense for the college. Young says funding would involve a bit of help from the City of Langford, as he says he wants to make the decision easier for post-secondary institutions.

Young says  that one of his main hopes for a Langford campus would be a partnership with the sports and recreation sector of the city.

As we grow out here, it’s nice to have that plan in place before it disappears for some other use, you know what I mean? If we can incorporate a new campus with part of our new arenas and stadiums and things like that, and make it a really full-fledged campus with exciting opportunities outside of the classroom and build some community pride that way,” he says, “we’re really excited to get this to happen.”

Not quite a campus in mind

Despite Young’s open arms, Wilmshurst says that Camosun isn’t talking about a Langford campus, but rather about having a facility in West Shore that would allow the college to add programming there.

We’re not interested in reproducing a registration area, admissions area, and all the student services,” he says. “That’s a very expensive process to go through to develop a facility that has all of those kinds of things attached, but we are absolutely interested in offering more programming in the western communities, whether that be Langford or elsewhere in the western communities, because we have lots of students who are living there currently.”

Wilmshurst is looking to the Belmont model, at least in the short term, when talking about expanding into Langford. Wilmshurst says the college is interested in offering courses similar to the ones offered at Belmont, as well as some new programming exclusive to Langford.

“We’re interested in offering first-year University Transfer courses that we offer at Belmont, but we’re also interested in offering some new programming that’ll only be offered in Langford, for example. We don’t know what that would be yet—we’re exploring those options—but it’s something that we’d be really interested in doing,” says Wilmshurst.

Even just starting small would be amazing, says McKenzie. Having more programs out of Belmont right now would be good, she says, because they only offer about eight classes and there are spaces for them to do classes in the morning as well. She says she thinks it would make a huge impact.

Young says offering the courses at Belmont was the beginning of bringing more post-secondary education to West Shore, but now he wants to get the land available in order to eventually have that full-fledged campus.”

“So we’re pretty proactive out here in making sure the after-school experience and the things you can do in the community for young people are going to be there and enhanced, so we can make sure we have a great experience and people will want to go to school here with all the opportunities that we’ve built around,” he says.

Camosun receives an annual grant of over $45 million from the provincial government to help manage its campuses, says Wilmshurst, so there would have to be support from the provincial government to increase that level of funding if the college were to operate a new campus. He adds that if Young is able to get support to help with funding, the college would be pleased with that.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training says it’s premature to comment on the situation, as Camosun has not submitted a request for a new campus.

“At this time, Camosun College has not submitted a request for a new campus,” the spokesperson wrote in an email statement to Nexus. “If Camosun College is interested in pursuing a new campus in Langford in the future, there is a process in place for them to bring the proposal to the Ministry for consideration. The Ministry looks forward to hearing more details, should Camosun College decide that this is a future strategic priority for their organization.”

Wilmshurst says that the facility would have to be one that’s very low cost to own and operate, and one that the college could walk into fairly easily. This development would have to be partially funded by someone else, he says. He also says that they are interested in exploring all kinds of options, including any existing West Shore facilities that may be underutilized or not being used properly that the college could access.

The community effects

Would having a campus—or some other educational facility—out in Langford deter people from other municipalities from attending? Opening up opportunities to Langford students is great, but let’s not forget there are 12 other municipalities that would potentially have less opportunity to take advantage of the programming of these institutions. Coates, however, says she doesn’t think it would deter people from attending.

“I don’t think so,” she says. “I think it would be rewarding for all the communities. But I also feel it depends. If they really want to take a certain program that only runs out in Langford, they might be willing to drive all the way out there, or some people will be like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll change my mind.’ But it’s the same thing, like I really wanted to do this program, so I came out all the way to Lansdowne, whereas I live in Langford. Had this program been offered in Langford, I would have taken it there. I think it’s mostly about the commute and the traffic; sometimes it’s crazy.”

This story originally appeared in our October 4, 2017 issue.

Young says that it’s important to open opportunities for everybody.

“Any student should have the ease of access and opportunity for education,” he says.

It’s interesting to note Young’s desire for a Camosun campus in Langford, given Royal Roads’ close proximity; however, Royal Roads has no first- or second-year programs. Royal Roads vice president of communications and advancement Katharine Harrold thinks it would make a really positive impact on the whole West Shore area.

“I think it would be good news,” she says. “Royal Roads has many academic transfer agreements with Camosun, so I think it’d be a win for higher education; and a win for the West Shore is terrific, creating more opportunities we can all celebrate.”

Wilmshurst says it makes good sense for Camosun to have a Langford presence, as the college has the kinds of programs that would be attractive to a whole range of people there. Young says the fact that there are 3,000 students making the effort to commute shows that “the demand is there.” He says that Langford is a family-oriented community and that 60 percent of the jobs out there are in trades, which he feels bodes well for Camosun. Young says that Camosun is probably the best fit for their community.

“We’re just enhancing what they’ve already been saying, and now it’s up to us as politicians to say if that need is there, let’s expose it, let’s make sure that we work hard to make it happen,” he says. “If Geoff and the board there see the need, I just want to make sure they know Langford is there, and we will push as hard as we can to make it happen.”

Correction: A previous version of this story attributed the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training statement to Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training Melanie Mark when in fact it was a statement provided to Nexus meant to be unattributed. We apologize for the mistake.

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One Response to “West Shore dreamin’: Could—and should—Camosun expand to Langford?”
  1. Interest piqued says:

    Here is a comment I saw on a facebook post of this article that I think would be worth exploring:

    “If there is an appetite, perhaps Royal Roads University in Colwood could revamp it’s offerings or co-share space with Camosun to get things moving.”

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