Aurora College review receives positive feedback in Yellowknife

Yellowknife residents are giving a recent review of Aurora College a much warmer welcome than other communities in the Northwest Territories.

Many supportive of moving post-secondary hub to the capital city, despite some concerns

Education Minister Caroline Cochrane met with residents in Yellowknife on Thursday to talk about the Aurora College review. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Yellowknife residents are giving a recent review of Aurora College a much warmer welcome than other communities in the Northwest Territories, although some have concerns about the school's resources.

Residents were given a chance to let the territorial government know what they think of the review during a consultation with Minister of Education, Culture, and Employment Caroline Cochrane on Thursday night.

It was the third set of consultations since the review was released at the end of May. There have also been consultations in Inuvik and Fort Smith.

The review suggests turning the college into a northern polytechnic university, and moving its headquarters from Fort Smith to Yellowknife.

Those suggestions did not get much praise from Fort Smith residents. Some said the territorial government was going back on a commitment made by the federal government 50 years ago to name Fort Smith the capital of post-secondary education in the N.W.T.

People in Yellowknife, however, had a more positive response. 

"I think we have to be very serious about this report," said Pertice Moffitt, an instructor at Aurora College in Yellowknife. "And look beyond people losing their jobs or something like that. We need to think about the future for our students."

Pertice Moffitt, an instructor at Aurora College in Yellowknife, said the review should be taken seriously. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

She said the college has been evaluated many times, but now she would like to see some action.

Moffitt said there are many northerners that would like to stay in the North when pursuing post-secondary education. 

"And we owe them a good education," she said.

Cochrane agreed that she didn't want to lose students to southern institutions, adding her own son just left to get an education in the South.

She said the changes suggested in the review are forward-thinking.

"This is about our future," said Cochrane, adding it's for the "grandchildren."

Minister Caroline Cochrane said she doesn't want the North to lose students to southern educational institutions. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Suzanne Robinson, instructor of developmental studies at the college, said she's spoken to students in Inuvik and many of them would like to see a hub in Yellowknife, if it's not possible to have one in their hometown. 

"Fort Smith is really far from students in the Beaufort Delta and the Sahtu," said Robinson. "But if they're in Yellowknife, it's a hub."

Having the college's headquarters in Yellowknife would mean families can visit more often.

She said she did not want to criticize the Fort Smith campus, only relay that students have told her Yellowknife would be more accessible for them.

Difficult adjustment to Yellowknife

However, one woman did emphasize having difficulty adjusting to life at the Yellowknife campus when she attended Aurora College there in 2013.

Stefanie Pandke said the campus had many lacklustre qualities; limited student housing, no space for group studies, and no access to the campus after hours.

Stefanie Pandke said she had better success at Aurora College after she switched from Yellowknife to the Fort Smith campus. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Pandke said she could not get housing through the school, and had to pay rent at market price. She was working about 36 hours a week, while taking full-time classes.

"It was a large financial burden," said Pandke — one that she couldn't bear anymore.

The next year she switched to the Fort Smith campus. She said she was able to succeed because it had the amenities she needed.

During the meeting, Pandke told the minister, "we should be surveying not only the past students who have been through the system, but also the students who it didn't work out with."

Cochrane said she will now be working to hear from as many residents in the territory as possible, "collecting what the whole of the Northwest Territories sees as the vision for our post-secondary education."

She said the department will have a preliminary response to the Aurora College review in the fall.


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