Wednesday, May 2, 2018
I am writing to you today to express my deepest concerns regarding the pending decision to close the academic upgrading (AU) program in Smiths Falls.
I am the professor and program coordinator for the AU program in Smiths Falls and Lanark County. AU classes have been offered in Smiths Falls since the mid-1980’s. The program is funded in full by the Literacy and Basic Skills contract with the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD). There is one full time and two part time staff. The AU program is a continuous intake program.
For more than 30 years, this program has helped many people obtain the required skills and academic credentials to go on to post-secondary programs, employment training or directly to sustainable employment. Through academic upgrading, students may complete the Academic and Career Entrance (ACE) certificate which is equivalent to grade 12. The majority of our graduates who are wanting to go on to post-secondary training select Algonquin College as their post-secondary institution of choice. The AU program in Smiths Falls and Lanark County is closely connected to a network of programs and services available in Lanark County such as employment services (3 offices), Ontario Works, and the Perth Campus.
The Smiths Falls AU program is important to the residents of the area as many are receiving social assistance or have had their income drastically reduced due to the economic instability of the area over the past 10-12 years. Consequently, many do not own vehicles. Transportation to other academic programs such as the Ottawa campus is an issue; so having the service of AU closer to home allows these students to have an opportunity, through ride sharing and other travel arrangements, to gain the skills required to move to the next phase of their lives.
On March 12, 2018, my staff and I were told by my manager that, as a result of the implementation of Bill 148, the academic upgrading program in Smiths Falls and Lanark County was slated to be closed. This was the first time I had heard that the program was even being considered for closure. At the time, my manager did not have a definitive time frame as to when the program was slated to close, but she thought it could be the end of June of this year. We were, therefore, instructed to keep this information out of the public ear until more information could be gathered. My manager also informed me that, because this site is funded through a contract with MAESD, the College would need to have a conversation with the Ministry before making a final decision. Last week, I learned that apparently a conversation has occurred between the College and MAESD, but I was not informed of the results of the conversation. I have asked my manager and my union president, and neither have been able to get any answers or updates for me as to if and/or when this site will close.
Since March, my staff and I have kept quiet about the pending closure. We have kept daily activities to business as usual and, as such, have continued to accept new students into the program. These students believe that, if necessary, they will be able to continue their upgrading courses into the fall at this site because that is all we can tell them. We feel like we are lying to our students. For my part time staff, being left in limbo is very stressful. They are unsure if they should be looking for other work. They enjoy their work at the Smiths Falls Centre and are distressed that no one is giving us any information. I am starting to see a lack of enthusiasm in my staff which I have never experienced before. The not-knowing is the hardest part.
Furthermore, the seven other Algonquin programs that were recently suspended were made public in March. Since then, these programs have had the opportunity to rally public support in defense of not suspending the program. Because our announcement has yet to be made (or even decided), we have not been given the same opportunity to rally public support. I am certain that we would be able to generate a lot of support from the public, current and former students and staff, and referring agencies and support networks if given the opportunity.
I have been the program coordinator for the AU program in Smiths Falls since 2001. It is my opinion that the closing of this program will have a devastating effect on our students, our communities, and the college’s reputation in Lanark County. I predict that many of the students will give up their upgrading studies and not return to the College for post-secondary programs. There will be a gap in service to the residents of Lanark County as some are not able to succeed in other offerings of high school equivalency programs (i.e. local high school adult education programs). More residents will remain on assistance because they will not be able to gain the skills to succeed in training or employment.
I have been a proud member of the Algonquin College community for more than 30 years. I love the work I do, and I believe it shows in our results. While it is sometimes difficult to quantify the effects of AU on a community with data, the true stories are in the individuals who have been able to make a positive change in their lives as a result of gaining skills and confidence that could be applied to new learning or sustainable employment. The academic upgrading program makes a difference.
As a long time Algonquin College employees, I am appalled at the lack of consultation and communication I have received since the College sent my manager with the news of the pending closure. I respectfully request an opportunity to advocate for the academic upgrading program at an upcoming meeting of the Board of Governors.
Professor and Program Coordinator
Smiths Falls Centre
Faculty Member, OPSEU Local 415