College of the North Atlantic's president says the institution sees recent budget cuts as an opportunity to refocus its programs. Critics, however, fear they could mean the end of Newfoundland and Labrador's public college system.

'We're going to have to be more flexible.' —Ann Marie Vaughan, CNA president

CNA sustained a $15-million cut in last month's budget. The college will realize $6.6 million of that by ending its adult basic education program.

Another $4 million will be saved by eliminating low-enrolment programs at 16 of its 17 campuses — from visual arts at the Bay St. George campus to brick-laying at its Carbonear campus. In total, 27 courses will be axed.

"We're going to have to be more flexible and responsive to the labour market even more so than we have been in the past," said CNA president Ann Marie Vaughan. "But when we're facing significant wait lists in some areas, we cannot continue with programs that are very low in enrolment."

Vaughan said the 200 students enrolled in the programs will be able to complete their studies first.

Retired administrator worried

Mac Moss, a retired administrator at the College of the North Atlantic campus in Gander, agreed the institution must be flexible and adapt to the demands of the workforce by cutting courses with few students, but he said he's worried the cuts could go deeper.

"The budget decision next year will be to close campuses," said Moss. "I think that's the direction the government is headed and they will say because of low enrolment. And the low enrolment is because they cut the programs. So it's a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Moss said he was especially distressed about the privatization of adult basic education. He said he doesn't believe assertions from private colleges that they can deliver the courses without extra costs to students.

"My concern is that the tuition rate will be such that the students won't be able to go," said Moss. "And I'm really concerned [that] a large number of people who need the adult basic education are going to get left behind."

NAPE president Carol Furlong, whose union represents college staff, said she also thinks the cuts could mean the beginning of the end for the province's public colleges.

"This is, in my opinion, an attack on public education," said Furlong.

Vaughan said she remains committed to the operation of all of the college's existing campuses.