Junior colleges are struggling for their survival

News 20 August, 2017
  • Photo David Prince
    The cégep de l’abitibi-Témiscamingue is fighting for the financial survival of its establishment. Its director, Sylvain Blais (photo), must be creative in order to maintain programs that have only a handful of students.

    Daphnée Dion-Viens

    Sunday, 20 August 2017 00:00

    Sunday, 20 August 2017 00:00

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    The college network celebrates this year its 50th anniversary while in the region of the cegeps are fighting for their survival.

    In the fall of 1967, 14 000 students were breaking for the first time the doors of the first 12 cegeps across the four corners of Quebec. Other institutions were later created, so that 48 colleges now host some 177 000 cegep students.

    Despite this growth, some institutions are struggling for years to challenge the loss of population and the economic decline that hit their region.

    In Gaspé, the college will host this year approximately 550 students, almost three times less than at the end of the 1980s. “When a college is subject to a drop in population of this magnitude, we need to respond. This is a big challenge, ” says its director, Yves Galipeau.

    Foreign students recruited

    In recent years, several initiatives have been put in motion to curb this trend, such as the recruitment of twenty-two French students and the establishment of a program for up to fifty young people in Quebec from larger centres to do a study session at the edge of the gulf of St. Lawrence.

    This pilot project has led to the creation of a scholarship program for Quebec last year to encourage young people to go to study in junior colleges of a region.

    On the side of the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, it also attempts to halt the decline in the number of entries by multiplying the recruitment efforts abroad and elsewhere in the province.

    The programs remain open

    Despite these initiatives, the college has, however, still had to bear last year a decrease in the number of students, that is around 2400 on its three campuses.

    “I don’t want to think about what it would be like if we didn’t put all this money in the recruitment and if there was not all these efforts “, drops his director-general, Sylvain Blais.

    The task is not easy since, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the good economic situation night of recruitment, ” says Mr. Blais. In this region with a shortage of labour, it is easy to find a job without specialized training, since the unemployment rate is very low.

    Aware of the needs of employers in regional, Mr. Blais, however, refuses to “close” a program, because there are not enough enrolments. Result : programs are maintained even if they have less than 15 entries and that they are not financially viable.

    “I can’t close a program for which the employment rate is 100 %, says Mr. Blais. One under-finance elsewhere, we made choices. It redistributes the misery in the other programs. “

    Back to school collegiate in 1967

    • Approximately 14 000 students
    • 25 % are girls
    • 75 % are boys

    Back to school collegiate in 2017

    • About 177,000 students
    • 58 % are girls
    • 42 % are boys

    The 12 cegeps opened in 1967

    • Rimouski
    • Jonquière
    • Chicoutimi
    • Abitibi-Témiscamingue
    • Limoilou
    • Sainte-Foy
    • Ottawa
    • Lionel-Groulx
    • Valleyfield
    • Édouard-Montpetit
    • Ahuntsic
    • De Maisonneuve

    The challenge of financing for small cegeps

    In addition to greater efforts to attract more students, the colleges in the region are also grappling with a funding formula that disadvantages.

    The cuts of the past few years in the college network have been particularly hurt small colleges, already struggling with challenges of recruitment, recalls Yves Galipeau, director general of the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles.

    “It hurts more because of the funding model, which is based in good part on the number of students “, he says.

    In this cegep, which is spread out over four campuses (in the Gaspé, the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, in Carleton-sur-Mer and Grande-Rivière), the square metres to heat and light do not necessarily correspond to the number of students who are welcomed, ” says Mr. Galipeau.


    Gold cuts were applied at the same height in all the colleges, ” wall to wall “, so that the margin of maneuver is less likely in small schools, ” he continues.

    “The Dawson college in Montreal, the fixed costs represent 30% of the budget. For us, it is 80 %. We had to cut the equivalent of 15 full-time employees. “

    For its part, the Fédération des cégeps has long advocated for changes to the funding formula for the college network. “This is the heart of our concerns,” says its president and ceo, Bernard Tremblay.

    The minister of higher Education, Hélène David, is open to make changes and work has started on this subject, said to his cabinet.

    “A committee of experts is being put in place,” says his press secretary, Thierry Bélair.

    The stakes are high because the vitality of cegeps is crucial for the regions, reminds from his side, Mr. Galipeau. “Take away the college and you no longer have the same Gaspésie “, lance-t-il.