Valemount College takes shape

by LAURA KEIL 

In just over a year, there may be a new centre point of continuing education in the Robson Valley: Valemount College.

“Big Mountains; Small Classes” is the tagline of the new school, which will be run as an Enterprising Non-Profit under the auspices of the Valemount Learning Centre (VLC).

VLC Manager Riette Kenkel says their recently completed business plan includes four areas of study leading to certificates: Rural Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management, Mountain Outdoor Recreation Tourism, First Nations Cultural Tourism, and Tourism Administration.

They also plan to offer shorter “Edu- Tourism” programming for tourists which are short-term educational activities.

Kenkel told the Goat last year that it will be like a mini Banff Centre, but instead focussing on the arts, it would focus on mountain culture.

She says some programs may be delivered in conjunction with a private business that needs to train its employees.

The Learning Centre has offered short-term courses in First Aid, Firearms etc for many years but this is the run a separate school.

The school will have a separate board of directors directing the non-profit, though Kenkel notes that initially the new school society will have the same board as the Valemount Learning Society, which is putting the bulk of the investment into the project. The new non-profit will continue to operate under the Valemount Learning Society as an Enterprising Non-Profit or social enterprise. A social enterprise has two goals – one is to earn revenue, but the other often more important goal is to achieve some social, cultural, community economic or environmental outcomes.

Kenkel says the Learning Society has $257,000 in the bank to go towards start-up costs. That leaves them short roughly $134,000 to fund the first 9-month stretch of the school. She says they hope to secure funds for launching the school through CBT or the Rural Dividend. They also need to find a larger space. They are currently considering classrooms at the Community Services Building on Gorse St.

In the spring, the Society will hire a full-time college director as well as an executive assistant and bookkeeper, Kenkel says. The college director will be responsible for getting the school off the ground, something the Learning Society hopes to do by winter 2018. This will include hiring teachers and advertising the school. Kenkel says generous scholarships and bursaries will be offered the first year to get people interested, and they hope to be sustainable financially by year three.

Kenkel says they hope to attract students from neighbouring communities first, but hope eventually to attract students from across Canada, North America and the globe. While they will be competing with other small schools in the Kootenays and elsewhere, they hope the small classroom sizes, stunning location & recreational opportunities are enough to give them an edge. She says there is no other college in northern B.C. offering these types of programs.

They hope the small classroom sizes, stunning location & recreational opportunities are enough to give them an edge.

Eventually Kenkel says they plan to achieve PCTIA accreditation (the predominant private post-secondary accreditation). Courses would range from short-term workshops to full-semester courses that are transferable to other post-secondary institutions.

Adventure Management won the contract to create the business plan, and held a meeting in the spring to gather input and feedback as well as ideas for courses or instructors. The business plan built on a pre-feasibility and market study created by Izen Consulting over the last two years.

Adventure Management’s Wendy Dyson, who is also on the Learning Centre board, explained the Learning Centre board realized there might be room for expanding its offerings back in 2013.

After the NORE (Northern Outdoor Recreation and Ecotourism) program left the community in 2011 there was a gap in the community for post-secondary education. The NORE program came up in Learning Centre discussions, because it was a small program that ran for a number of years in the area, and brought people here, some of whom stayed and brought or started their families here.

That program was a partnership with the College of New Caledonia, and when their priorities changed, they canceled funding for the program. The Learning Society board agreed they were willing to take on some business risks to bring back a similar program.

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