by MIKE BEAUDIN
Kemptville College’s days as a post-secondary agricultural school and research centre may be finished.
The eastern Ontario college has little or no future as an agricultural education institution after attempts to find another college or university to support it failed, says a report by Lyle Vanclief, a former federal minister of agriculture.
Meanwhile, College d’Alfred, the province’s lone French-language agricultural college, should continue to operate with the support of the provincial government but faces a “bleak” future unless it makes significant changes, recommends a report by Marc P. Godbout.
The Ontario government commissioned both Vanclief and Godbout to consider options for the colleges in light of the University of Guelph’s announcement in March that it would close both at the end of 2015 due to sagging enrolments and increased costs.
In a report released Thursday by the province, Vanclief said none of the eight colleges and universities he contacted were interested in providing or managing academic diploma programs at the Kemptville campus.
The campus land and facilities are owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO) and operated and maintained by the university under a management agreement that ends in 2018.
“ARIO may wish to give serious consideration to divesting of the Kemptville Campus
unless it has the support to become a landlord of facilities outside of its mandate of
encouraging research,” said Vanclief.
He said a non-profit organization acting as a landlord, manager and potential owner with community partners and some government start-up financial assistance could redevelop the campus into a community and educational center for eastern Ontario.
The report said two community colleges were interested in offering welding programs at the college. The only possibility of it staying as an agricultural school was if it became an international agricultural college for foreign students operated by a private company and funded by the students and government of that country.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, and Francophone Affairs are reviewing the reports. In a joint news release issued Thursday, the province said it will outline the next steps for both colleges by the end of January 2015.
The province established Kemptville College in 1917 to educate young farmers in new production methods and animal husbandry. It also served as a demonstration and experimental farm to encourage existing farmers to adopt improved production practices in eastern Ontario.
The province’s agriculture ministry operated the facility as an agricultural college until 1997 when programs were transferred to the University of Guelph. Since then, the number of first-year agricultural students has remained relatively stagnant, ranging from 37 to 57 students.
The university cited low enrolment, inefficient program delivery, aging facilities and low research output as the main reasons for the closures that would save $7 million in annual costs. Its announcement of the closure generated a wave of activity by politicians, municipal leaders, farmers and students trying to keep the college open, leading to the Vanclief and Godbout reports.
Christina Crowley, an agriculture ministry spokeswoman, said in an email interview today the province will review the reports based on the needs of current and prospective students, the economic and fiscal impact on the communities and the province and the importance of encouraging an agricultural education that continues to support French-language students.
“Although next steps for each campus may be different, each institution will be treated with equal importance in government decision-making going forward,” said Crowley.
Vanclief said his research showed no prospects for increasing enrolment in the diploma program. In addition, he said the college now plays a limited role in educating existing farmers in eastern Ontario due to the expansion of agribusinesses supporting farmers, new technologies, electronic communications and social media.
Kemptville campus encompasses 847 acres of which about one-third is arable. There are 52 buildings including a few small sheds ranging in age from 15 to 95 years old. The facilities include a heavy equipment area, equine facilities, welding facilities, a free-stall dairy barn with a robotic milker, stables, a livestock arena, a maple sugar bush and syrup production facility, sports fields, a cafeteria and a student residence.
Vanclief said no specific proposals were received for future use of the agricultural facilities. If the campus hopes to attract new tenants in the future some buildings should be demolished and upgraded.
In his report on Alfred campus, Godbout noted the school had been on the chopping block several times before but was saved by strong community support.
He said despite low enrolments, a limited range of programs and the needy state of its infrastructures, the Alfred campus has tremendous potential, but only if it overhauls its structure and programs. Without major change and adequate financing, it faces a “bleak” future, said the report.
Alfred should continue to be managed by both La Citeand Boreal, located in Ottawa and Sudbury respectively, said the report.
Godbout also recommended an independent financial audit to determine the campus’s viability over the next three years. BF