Years of work needed to save college

I am on record supporting Steve Clark's continued push for an agricultural diploma program at Kemptville College.

I am not inclined to change my mind now. I am, however, inclined to change my level of optimism about the campus offering more diplomas in the near future, now that I have read the conclusions of former federal agriculture minister Lyle Vanclief.

Whether or not Clark is correct to blame the Liberal government for failing to try hard enough, and whether or not local staff are correct in their assertion the University of Guelph did not do enough to market the Kemptville diploma program, the fact is there is a demand gap.

For starters, any diploma program would have to come from a new institution, since Guelph is clearly not interested. And Vanclief points to the long process any college or university has to go through – internally before even approaching the province – to start a new program in a new locale.

That might be enough to have turned the institutions Vanclief spoke to off any attempt at a proposal.

But then there's the clincher: “Possible providers indicated that the current small numbers of students are insufficient to secure their interest in developing a (financial) feasibility proposal for academic programs on the campus.”

We can spend all the time and effort we want assigning blame for the problem, but that problem – paucity of demand – is the inescapable challenge the local community now faces in its efforts to save Kemptville College from oblivion.

Pressuring the provincial government for support will only go so far. It would not be unreasonable, however, to seek some financial support for North Grenville's proposed solution.

The proposed Kemptville Centre for Rural Advancement is so far the most promising of the ideas emanating from the Vanclief report – which is why it has the facilitator's endorsement.

Vanclief's report recommends handing over the campus to the municipality, and touches on the viability of the plan now championed by the Kemptville College Renewal Task Force.

In my view, there is a combination of interested parties that could lease most or all of the facilities on the campus which would ensure benefits to many regional, community and agricultural needs and an active presence of the campus in the area,” Vanclief writes.

A local, independent, government-based, non-profit organization would likely be best positioned to work with multiple partners to ensure its success.”

After which he adds: “The biggest challenge will be the ability to secure a provider or providers for specific or general agricultural academic education that would lead to a diploma-granting status.”

That is one key take-away from the Vanclief report: Kemptville College is not keeping “diploma-granting status.”

Rather it is losing it, for now, with the departure of the University of Guelph, and will have to spend the next few years working toward creating a situation “that would lead to a diploma-granting status.”

The surest course of action for the college now is to secure provincial approval for the “centre for rural advancement,” then spend the coming years populating it with partners who may eventually establish a diploma program.

How long that will take is an open guess, depending on many economic and political factors. But it's hard work worth doing.

As Vanclief himself puts it: “Kemptville College was built over many years; its renewal will not occur overnight.”