Laurentian financial crisis not typical of post-secondary sector, other northeastern schools say
Algoma president says Laurentian's financial crisis brought on by factors not shared among other universities
Colleges and universities across the north say they're not experiencing the same kind of financial crisis playing out at Laurentian University.
Although there has been some uncertainty over the past year due to the pandemic, seven of the eight colleges and universities in northeastern Ontario report to be in good fiscal health while Laurentian implements lay-offs and program cuts through a court-ordered restructuring brought on by insolvency.
"What's important for us right now is that northern communities in particular, understand that this is not every university in northern Ontario. It's very complex and specific to Laurentian," says Asima Vezina, president and vice-chancellor at Algoma University in Sault Ste Marie.
"The university sector as a whole is not experiencing the same kinds of issues that Laurentian is dealing with," she added.
Prior to the pandemic, she says, Algoma made decisions that allowed the school to continue operating through the unpredictable past year.
"For Algoma we've made some very strategic decisions in the last three years to ensure the university could sustain itself through challenging times like the current context, and also not be reliant on only a couple of different revenue sources," she said.
However, Vezina believes there are lessons to be learned from the ordeal unfolding at Laurentian.
"Hindsight is always 20/20, but we can learn from Laurentian's story — for lack of a better word — and I think it will help all of us as we're doing planning in a very uncertain context."
In a statement to CBC News, Nipissing University in North Bay said it has experienced financial challenges over the years due to several factors, most recently the impacts of COVID-19.
"The university has taken concrete steps to address these challenges to ensure its long-term sustainability including engaging PWC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] in 2015 to assist in creating a multi-year financial plan."
"We are confident in our financial position, remain focused on our strategies for growth, and look forward to continuing to offer a first class education and student experience to learners in the north, while serving as an anchor in our community," the statement also said.
The 24 colleges across Ontario, including the five in the northeast, operate under the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, and must present balanced budgets every year to the provincial government.
If a college presents a deficit budget to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, they must also provide a plan on how that deficit will be reduced.
"We're very confident [in our fiscal health], and Collège Boréal will continue to strive," said Daniel Giroux, president of the college based in Sudbury.
"Anytime there are concerns in any institution it's important for us to reinforce the positive state of our finances, and we've done that," he added.
Giroux credits the faculty and staff at Boréal with getting the school through the instability of the past year.
"The dedication to seeing all the students succeed, and clients succeed, is truly tremendous," he said, crediting the innovation from faculty and support staff who helped deliver programs to students during the pandemic.
Giroux wants to see the school continue to evolve, meet industry needs, and to look for different sources of revenues.
In a statement, Cambrian College in Sudbury said it remains in a strong financial position.
"In keeping with our fiscal sustainability plan, we take a conservative approach to budgeting, and present a balanced budget to the Board of Governors each year, then work diligently over the course of the year to limit expenditures and meet enrolment projections."
"We also deliberately generate a modest surplus to reinvest in the College the following year for capital projects and improvements, or invest in a capital restricted fund for future capital needs as we strive to provide students with the education and experience they come to expect from us," the statement also said.
"We need to be completely transparent with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities," said Audrey Penner, president of Northern College. It has four sites in northeastern Ontario: Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Haileybury and Moosonee.
"We are currently sitting with a positive balance at the end of the fiscal year."
Penner sais Northern College has been hearing from its students who are part of the joint Bachelor of Science Nursing program, which is in partnership with Laurentian.
"We have an excellent relationship with Laurentian and have been reassured that our partnership there is on firm footing," she said.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Penner said Northern College began adjusting its budget to assure the school was accounting for declining enrolment.
"We also were able to maintain a balanced position even through that process," she said.
In a brief email to CBC news, Sault College, in Sault Ste. Marie stated it "remains fiscally sound with balanced budgets. We do not have any long term capital debt at this time either."
Canadore College in North Bay did not provide a statement to CBC News, but under the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act must provide a balanced budget yearly to the provincial government.