Doing IR in a rural, northern, very complex college

This was a tough call–once again hear the incomparable Joanne Heslop, Manager of BC’s Student Transitions Project speak about mobility in the BC K-PSE system (I learn something new each time) or listen in on Small yet Complex: Doing IR at a Rural, Northern, Predominantly Aboriginal, Community Oriented, Distributed Learning College by Monica Kreiner of Northern Lakes College in NW Alberta? Although I was torn, I chose the latter (and not just because I could sit by a big window and look out at the trees and snow occasionally 🙂 ).

Monica described a college that covers one-quarter of Alberta’s land mass with 3% of its population, with 29 campuses (“some are trailers with Fourth World conditions”) and a combination of delivery type from on-site to web-based.

Although it’s known that most students are Aboriginal, self-declaration is an issue: Less than half of students check “Aboriginal” on the application form (it’s optional). This has implications for funding (e.g. they needed to prove more than 50% for federal funding for a residence); Monica triangulated by asking Access facilitators at each campus for their expert opion (20% more–>70% Aboriginal) and also looked at which career students were sponsored by a tribal council or band (10% more–>60%). In other words, 10-20% more on a base of 50% is a factor of 20-40% more overall; if this holds true elsewhere, it could be that if 5% self-report, the actual might be in the range of 6%-7%.

In other ways, it’s very challenging to come up with workarounds when numbers are small for Alberta’s mandated KPIs. Enrolments and completion rates can be affected by community tragedies, for example. Numbers aside, Monica painted a vivid picture of college life in Northern Alberta.

Moving beyond access: Are we “Data ready” for a student success agenda?

When the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation (CMSF) is dissolved next year, who will continue nation-wide research into the student success agenda–i.e. access to post-secondary for traditionally underrepresented groups? Gaps persist in post-secondary participation rates especially among low-income, first-generation, and Aboriginal groups. David Simmonds of CMSF and Sheila Currie of Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC) presented on a study into whether we've built and sufficiently support a data infrastructure to underpin recruitment, retention and student success models for students from a variety of backgrounds.

A set of principles was presented to the group for feedback before they're shared with presidents at PSIs across the country. Two comments stood out for me: One person pointed out that they seemed more like a strategy than like principles, while another suggested that a bottom-up process, with IR offices agreeing on standards would probably work better. Look forward to hearing from your college or university president when this comes through.