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Laurentian senators concerned with university’s shrinking enrolment numbers

‘If that is not corrected, we stand to see a continual decreasing pool’

Members of the Laurentian University senate expressed concern at their Nov. 16 meeting about figures released by the university earlier this month that show shrinking enrolment amid LU’s insolvency crisis.

Enrolment at the university is down 14 per cent this year as compared to a year ago. The university has tried to put a positive spin on this news, though, saying it had actually projected a 15-per-cent decrease.

The university was also predicting a drop of enrolment of a little more than 30 per cent among first-year students, and that prediction came true.

Regarding this figure, Dan Scott, an associate librarian at Laurentian, said “the issue with that is, if that is not corrected, we stand to see a continual decreasing pool,” and “we need to see the plan for correcting that 30-per-cent drop.”

Laurentian president Robert Haché said the 30-per-cent drop in students in this year’s first-year cohort will be carried forward for the entire four years they’re at Laurentian.

“It is going to be a process to rebuild enrolments with the university,” Haché said. “The financial forecasting that the university is doing, it is proceeding with a conservative rebuilding of enrolments as we exit the CCAA process and continue on from there.”
He said the university is actively recruiting for next year. 

“We are looking to rebuild those numbers, but we also recognize and are being appropriately conservative in financial projections to understand that will not happen in a single year,” Haché said. “But it is something that we need to do over time.”

In his written report to the senate, Haché said Laurentian’s proportion of students studying in French-language degree programs “is showing a positive trend and indicates it will increase for a fifth consecutive year resulting in more than 20 per cent of the student population. 

“In terms of headcount enrolments, the year-over-year trends show a decline of 14.6 per cent for English programs and a 10-per-cent decline for French programs. In addition, Laurentian’s online program offerings continue to have stronger enrolment trends overall (2,076 headcount) in comparison to our on-campus programs, with a year-over-year drop of only three per cent following a strong increase last year.”

Haché also told in an interview earlier this month that the decline among International students was five per cent in English programs and eight per cent in French-language programs.

Senate member Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde, a behavioural and evolutionary ecologist and Laurentian professor, took issue with Haché putting a positive spin on several topics.

That includes his report on enrolment, specifically with regard to the proportion of students in French programs.

“There was a lot of positive reflection on that number, I think it was 20 per cent of students are now in the Francophone program, but that is math,” said Schulte-Hostedde.

He said the proportion of Francophone students has increased because their ranks have declined at a slower rate than Anglophone students, adding that Laurentian is opening itself up to criticism.

But Haché said he disagrees with this assessment.

“For the past five years, the percentage of students studying in French has gone up at this university,” he said.

“And in four of those five years, it was a net increase in the number of students. It is correct that this year we are down approximately 50 students in our French-language programs.*

“But the overall trend over a period of years is that the only place that this university was growing students was in our French-language programs.”

With the enrolment numbers as a backdrop, Shannon Bassett, a professor in Laurentian’s architecture school, expressed concern about what is going on with international recruitment at the university.

She said Laurentian’s head recruiter resigned in the spring, and another recruiter just accepted a position with the University of Ottawa.

In response to a question from Bassett about the current recruiter’s qualifications, Laurentian associate vice-president of student affairs Serge Demers said the recruiter had been on the job for four years, and is sufficiently experienced.

However, Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU) president Tom Fenske said later in the meeting that he had met with his members who work in international recruitment, and said “the message I got is there is not enough people.

“They’re drowning in work. Their overtime is through the roof.”

Bassett also referred to comments by higher education consultant Alex Usher, who said Laurentian is lagging in recruiting international students, which is a problem because they bring in funds for universities.

Haché said Laurentian has underperformed when it comes to recruiting international students for the past decade, and that was something he was planning on correcting when he came in as president in 2019, but the pandemic intervened.

Marie-Josée Berger, Laurentian’s vice-president, academic, brought members of senate through LU’s current international student recruiting efforts, which currently are being done virtually due to the pandemic. 

“We have developed an academic recruiting plan for 2022,” she said.

*The quote has been updated for clarity. An earlier version of this story stated French-language programs at the university were down to approximately 50 students. In fact, the programs have lost 50 students; they don't have 50 students total. 


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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