The president of Confederation College says a lack of affordable accommodation in Thunder Bay is keeping potential students away.
That's one reason why the college is looking to build a student village that would include more on-campus housing, according to Jim Madder.
"We have a residence. It is absolutely completely filled," he said. "I have many parents who call me and say, 'I'd send you my son or daughter, but there's no safe place for them to stay.'"
The new village would include space for recreation and more services for people who are new to the city and college life — people like Trisha Mambalum Mahendra who, when she came to Thunder Bay eight months ago, said finding a place was a "Herculean task."
She was given a spot in residence — but for less than a week.
"It was in that brief span of five days that I had to search for a place. It was … an onerous task," Mambalum Mahendra said.
Ripple effect of last year’s flood
What Mambalum Mahendra did not know was that finding an apartment near the college recently became more difficult.
"I don't think the flood last spring helped out at all," Madder said.
"There was some quite reasonable accommodation that people had in basements, but those apartments are gone and people may not have decided to renew them or build them back."
"Students … have really been couch surfing," Madder said. "They've have been sharing accommodations with other people for the last six or eight months."
The student village is expected to have three major components: accommodation, recreation and a student success centre.
The student success centre would help support students — who come from all over the world — with a variety of things, from studying to finding food. The college already has international and transition advisors, but Madder said they'd like to do more. The college is also interested in partnering with other community groups that offer similar services to newcomers.
"When you think about student success, one can think about study skills and all those types of things and time management," Madder said.
"But on top of that … it's also just managing one's life. What are these new types of foods? Where do I shop? Where do I do all these sorts of things? Intuitively people might say 'well, gee, can't people figure that out?' but, in fact, it can often be a major barrier for people who have come, particularly from smaller communities or the other side of the world."
‘More social securty’
In Mambalum Mahendra’s experience, she said living on campus — as briefly as she did — was helpful with providing information on where to look to find places to stay. She didn’t know a soul when she arrived in Thunder Bay.
She said she thinks a new student village will be ideal, even though it won’t be built in time to help her, as it likely won't be ready until at least the fall of 2015.
"If [students] can stay on campus there's more access to the library. There's more social security," she said.
"They're more aware of what's going on … than people who are not on campus."
Madder noted students are also looking for new recreational options and access to 24/7 recreational activities, which the college can't offer now.
He said college officials will look for a location and may make it adjacent to buildings that are already there. Madder noted the village is a completely separate project from the Dennis Franklin Cromarty residence that is to be built near the college.
"We're in early days of this, but we're going to go to a request for proposals for a planning and architect firm to work with us to design what this could look like," he said.