Targeting Forestry Students
By Tony Kryzanowski
Despite disappointing enrolment numbers, the Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) Applied degree program in Forest Resource Management continues to garner solid support from both industry and government. Plus, most students who have completed the four-year program have acquired good paying jobs in their chosen field. Now in its sixth year, the college realizes that it still has a sales job to do.
At present, there are only eight students enrolled in the first year, six in the second, eight in the third, and eight in the fourth. "We have a list of six or seven positive things happening," says GPRC vice-president of instruction, Al Bromling. "We have this one negative thing: that we can't get the 20 to 24 students that we'd like to bring into the program every year. That is exactly our biggest challenge." The concept of "applied" degrees has now been accepted as part of the post secondary system in Alberta. Six years ago, Grande Prairie was chosen for one of eight applied degree programs that were piloted throughout the province.
However, because of its enrolment woes, the Grande Prairie program remains on conditional funding-the main condition being better future enrolment. While it has only offered the college conditional funding for the program, the government has recently shown its support with a major contribution in kind. It has donated a 160 square kilometre forested area for the college to use for training and research as part of its applied forestry degree program. "It includes the right to manage, plan for and actually harvest and obtain the revenue from harvesting the merchantable timber within that lease area," says Bromling. "It's not a huge area but it represents a boost to this program."
The applied forestry degree program consists of three years of academic studies and one year of on the job training that requires industry participation in a mentoring capacity. Students who graduate from the GPRC program qualify as forestry technologists, but with an additional year of academic training. They also have a head start on job experience as compared to, for example, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) program graduates. Although GPRC students do not qualify as registered professional foresters, their academic and practical work is recognized by the Alberta Professional Foresters Association as steps toward achieving that designation.
Earning that same recognition from neighbouring British Columbia is still in the discussion stage. Bromling says the college has strong industry support for the program, as demonstrated by its continuing participation in the program advisory committee. The local forest industry played a pivotal role in getting the program off the ground by helping to mold its mentoring dimension. Most recently, Weyerhaeuser Canada has demonstrated its support by offering a three year commitment to co fund one applied forestry degree staff position.
"We think that is going to be a big part of helping us move ahead because our people were stretched too thin," says Bromling. "I no longer have meetings with staff where they tell me we need more people. They believe that we are properly staffed now, and our real strategizing is around how to build the enrolment." He says the three barriers to meeting enrolment expectations include a need for greater understanding among potential students of what an applied degree represents. Secondly, careers in forestry seem, in general, to be less popular among young people compared to other career choices.
This is borne out in diminishing enrolment figures in forestry programs at other postsecondary institutions. Thirdly, the college's generic marketing approach was ill-conceived. After close examination, the college has discovered that the vast majority of enrolled students have come from communities where there is a forest industry presence. "Our marketing efforts perhaps should be focused on towns where there is a forest industry," says Bromling.
"We've now decided that we have to use a much more specific approach. We have to literally go out there to those particular high schools and communities and focus our recruiting there." Their first targeted area will be northwestern Alberta and northeastern BC, because they feel that those recruitment results will demonstrate very quickly whether or not the program is viable. "If we can't get stronger interest in this northwest sector, then we are simply going to have a problem," says Bromling. "We have to go into these forest based communities.
If we can't make the case there, then we don't think we are going to make the case in Camrose or some place outside the region that is not involved in the forest sector." To that end, the college will have a high profile at the upcoming Northern Alberta Forestry Show in Grande Prairie, which is expected to attract between 10,000 and 15,000 people-primarily from the area of Alberta and BC the program's recruitment strategy is targeting.
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