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New private college in Yellowknife says it will help the North — but its critics aren’t sold

In World
June 04, 2024

A new Yellowknife-based private college that’s promising “transformational learning” for northerners has run into some roadblocks to accreditation, and critics say it’s not clear what kind of programming it’s offering or to whom.

The N.W.T. government formally rejected the College of Northern Canada’s application to offer diplomas in global tourism management and global logistics, according to Chehrazade Aboukinane, the college’s president. The college is still operating and offering non-accredited courses.

In an interview with CBC, executives of the college defended the programming they want to offer and hailed it as a new education model that aims to help Indigenous people from remote communities.

However, the college’s tuition fees aren’t public, it isn’t eligible for student financial aid, and few details exist on the website for the college itself. A drop-down menu shows several courses with no description. Instead, applicants are instructed to call “an advisor.”

Centre of excellence and logistics learning

Despite its diploma programs being denied by the N.W.T.’s Department of Environment, Culture and Education (ECE), the college is still offering other training: a logistics pathways program that welcomed a cohort of students at the beginning of May.

Louis Blais, vice president of business development and marketing for the college, said the program grants a Canadian Institute of Traffic and Transportation (CITT)-Certified Logistics Professional (CCLP) designation.

“It’s a great way to unlock access to a lot of great-paying careers and jobs in logistics because, as we all know, in northern Canada and especially in the territories, logistics is a very, very in-demand job,” Blais said.

Louis Blais is vice president-business development and marketing for the College of Northern Canada.

Louis Blais is vice president-business development and marketing for the College of Northern Canada.

Louis Blais is vice-president of business development and marketing for the College of Northern Canada. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

CITT’s website lists several trucking organizations as industry partners.

Shaun Murray, a regional manager for Det’on Cho Landtran Transport, a trucking company in Yellowknife, told CBC he’d never heard of the CCLP designation. He said work experience is really what matters.

Pina Melchionna, president and CEO of CITT, who is also listed on the college’s website as faculty, said the course’s mandate isn’t for truck drivers specifically — it’s more focused on office jobs.

Blais said the school has about a dozen potential employers and companies willing to place students who go through the program, but declined to share that list with CBC.

“No further information will be shared until after the grand opening,” Blais wrote in an email, but didn’t say when the grand opening would be.

Diploma programs denied 

As for the diplomas, college president Chehrazade Aboukinane said the college is still in discussions with ECE about the rejection and “there is little information” she can reveal.

CBC News reached out to Caitlin Cleveland, the N.W.T.’s education minister, about why the applications were rejected.  A department spokesperson responded by email.

“The Department of Education, Culture and Employment is committed to taking the time necessary to work through the accreditation process with the College of Northern Canada,” wrote Katherine Barton, a spokesperson for ECE.

She said the N.W.T.’s accreditation process ensures “post-secondary institutions are properly governed and that programs, courses and the institutions themselves meet rigorous quality assurance processes.”

Dan Round, ECE’s manager of advanced education and strategic initiatives, said the territory’s Post-Secondary Education Act of 2022 gave the territory an opportunity to look at what was working in other jurisdictions.

Dan Round is the N.W.T.’s manager of advanced education and strategic initiatives.

Dan Round is the N.W.T.’s manager of advanced education and strategic initiatives.

Dan Round is the N.W.T. government’s manager of advanced education and strategic initiatives. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

The N.W.T.’s rules cap the number of international students any institution can have at 30 per cent of the student body. It also has two quality assurance bodies, which are organizations that look at what the applicant will be offering students. These ensure a minimum standard for all accredited institutions, and rules around refunds for students.

“The idea is that a degree taken in the North will be recognized as a degree anywhere else,” Round said.

‘A non-traditional educational institution’ 

Norman Yak’e ula, who is in the midst of running for Dene National Chief, is one of the N.W.T. Indigenous leaders on the college’s academic council.

“We’re looking at a new transformational type of learning for the Northwest Territories,” he said, adding that it focuses on getting young people into the workforce.

Other members of the academic council include include former cabinet minister Tom Beaulieu, Délı̨nę Chief (ekw’ahtı̨dé) Danny Gaudet and Steven Nitah, former Łutsel K’e chief.

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya speaks at the event in Calgary.

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya speaks at the event in Calgary.

Norman Yak’e ula speaks at an event in Calgary. He is listed on the academic council for the College of Northern Canada and says he hopes for more Indigenous professors to be a part of the faculty in the future. (Jared Monkman/CBC)

Yak’e ula said although there is a lack of Indigenous instructors at the school, he’s hoping that changes soon.

“We got really smart Indigenous and northern people who could fill these positions as professors,” he said.

“Maybe in 10 years or less.”

Aboukinane describes it as “a non-traditional educational institution” that is “targeting primarily Indigenous learners from various educational levels and backgrounds.”

In an interview with NNSL, Aboukinane said there are no students from the North currently enrolled in the logistics program that’s being offered. Blais confirmed in an email that there are no northern students registered.

No student financial assistance

A lack of public information and a lack of financial support for students are two concerns Julia Christensen, an associate professor in the department of geography and planning at Queen’s University, has about the college.

Christensen, who grew up in Yellowknife, said she wonders if the college will offer education that benefits northern and Indigenous communities.

“I’d really like to see a lot more presented to the northern public about the process of the development of this college,” she said.

Julia Christensen is an associate professor at Queen's University. She says she has several concerns around the college, including the affordability for northern students if they can't access financial assistance.

Julia Christensen is an associate professor at Queen’s University. She says she has several concerns around the college, including the affordability for northern students if they can’t access financial assistance.

Julia Christensen is an associate professor at Queen’s University. She says she has several concerns around the college, including the affordability for northern students if they can’t access financial assistance. (Submitted by Julia Christensen)

She also worries about the financial burden it could place on prospective students. Students attending the college are not eligible for the N.W.T.’s student financial assistance program.

“That really, really limits, ultimately, what kind of an opportunity this is for northerners,” Christensen said.

Aboukinane, the college president, said the school is “not looking at funding for existing students.”

“We’ve had several interested applicants who were ready to pay the price it takes to learn and pursue their professional designation,” she said.

The college declined to tell CBC how much its courses cost, and also doesn’t provide those costs online.

However, in its application for the now-rejected global tourism and logistics programs, it wrote that tuition for those courses would have been $7,200 a year for domestic students.

Chehrazade Aboukinane, president of the College of Northern Canada, confirmed that the Department of Education, Culture and Employment rejected applications for two diploma programs.

Chehrazade Aboukinane, president of the College of Northern Canada, confirmed that the Department of Education, Culture and Employment rejected applications for two diploma programs.

Chehrazade Aboukinane, president of the College of Northern Canada, confirmed that the N.W.T.’s Department of Education, Culture and Employment rejected applications for two diploma programs. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

Huge debt loads, few job opportunities 

Many of the criticisms levelled against private career colleges involve them taking advantage of international students, who pay a high price for tuition.

The College of Northern Canada isn’t listed as a designated learning institute that’s allowed to accept international students, but in its rejected application, it did apply to be allowed.

Courtney Mo is the director of community impact at Momentum. Her organization completed a study looking at student experience at private career colleges and found there is a “a really broad spectrum of quality."

Courtney Mo is the director of community impact at Momentum. Her organization completed a study looking at student experience at private career colleges and found there is a “a really broad spectrum of quality.”

Courtney Mo is the director of community impact at Momentum. Her organization completed a study looking at student experience at private career colleges and found there is a ‘a really broad spectrum of quality.’ (Luke Carroll/CBC)

The director of Momentum, an Alberta-based charity that offers skilled training to people with lower incomes, said private career colleges offer a wide range of quality education — depending on which ones you look at.

Courtney Mo said her organization applied for funding from the federal government to complete a study that documents student experiences with private career colleges.

“[There are] some really great colleges that are connecting students to important jobs and meaningful work,” said Courtney Mo.

“[There are] other colleges that are offering really concerning educational experiences, really poor-quality instruction and instructional materials, and some that were outright misleading, that were offering false and incorrect information.”

Mo said her organization encourages provincial and territorial governments to have a minimum quality standard for private colleges, which the N.W.T. has.

She also encourages them to limit which institutions can access government student financial assistance, as that can sometimes make the institution look more legitimate.

In the N.W.T., non-accredited schools don’t qualify for student financial aid.

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