Pandemic? What Pandemic?

St. Clair has benefited from significantly higher enrolment at its "sister school" in Toronto.

While many other postsecondary institutions across Canada – colleges and universities – are suffering from COVID-caused enrolment declines threatening their financial well-being, St. Clair is in the rare position of announcing an enrolment increase and a stable fiscal situation this year.

That good news was revealed to the college’s Board of Governors (BofG) during its September 22nd meeting, in reports by President Patti France and Chief Financial Officer Marc Jones.

France informed the BofG that preliminary and unofficial registration data shows that the college’s fall of 2020 semester enrolment is hovering at the 13,500 mark – up from last September’s 12,800.

(The numbers are not “official” until the “withdraw-from-college” deadline, this year occurring on October 2.)

The increase is due, entirely, to an admission increase of approximately 1,100 students at St. Clair’s “sister school” in Toronto, the Ace Acumen Academy.

Ace Acumen is a private-sector school, that provides secondary school education and English-language training to immigrants (chiefly from Asia).

In the early years of this decade, it began searching for a public college that it could partner with, in order to provide its students with some follow-up – and on-site – postsecondary education opportunities.

After months of negotiation, in early 2014, it launched such a partnership with St. Clair.

Initially, with abundant academic oversight and licensing its curriculum to the private school, St. Clair offered two Ontario college diploma programs at Acumen’s Toronto Campus: Business and Computer Systems Technician-Networking.

The on-site offerings proved so popular among Acumen’s students that the program options expanded to include International Business Management, Human Resoruces Management, Office Administration – Health Services, Social Service Worker-Gerontology, and Data Analytics for Business.

Ace Acumen expanded too. It now has two campuses in the Toronto area, both offering St. Clair programs.

This fall’s enrolment at St. Clair’s Windsor and Chatham campuses actually dipped by about 1,000 students, France noted. That was due, primarily, to COVID limiting the ability of international students to travel to Canada.

Even that decline, however, was far less than initially projected by the college, because many international students did choose to enrol and take their first semester on-line in their homelands.

The remarkable enrolment increase has maintained the college’s healthy financial position.

France and Jones are now projecting that the college will conclude its fiscal year at the end of March (2021) with a budgetary surplus of between $18 and $23 million – with a “worst case scenario” of a $13 million surplus, and a “best case scenario” of $30 million.

The $18-$23 million estimate is a dip from the original budget projection (of last April) of $25.4 million.

It is, nevertheless, a remarkable achievement when many other Ontario colleges and universities are now forecasting COVID-caused year-end deficits.

A big part of how the final picture plays out, Jones said, will be the ongoing impact of the global virus on the status of the winter semester, starting in January: whether classes would shift from chiefly on-line format back to in-person attendance, and whether international students will be able to make their way here for such classes.

Even if the educational format does return to “normal” (for the most part), both the federal and provincial governments have demanded that postsecondary schools have extensive plans in place to accommodate newly arriving international students. Indeed, such admissions will not be allowed unless the schools have such plans in place.

To-date in the development of its plan in that regard, France said St. Clair has been “able to satisfy all of the provincial and federal governments’ concerns and questions” about how it will handle international enrolment in January.

First and foremost, the college will implement a system to welcome global students upon arrival at airports, temporarily house them during their isolation/quarantine periods, and arrange for their COVID testing before allowing them to make their way to any St. Clair campus.