In the past five years, Ontario’s Fleming College, which has campuses in Lindsay, Haliburton and Peterborough, has seen its overall enrolment rise by 20 per cent. Dr. Tony Tilly, Fleming’s president, elaborates on the implications of that growth for his institution, as well as the evolving role of colleges. He spoke over the phone from India, where he was travelling in support of Fleming’s recruitment of Indian students.
Let’s begin with a brief description of your institution and its mission.
We are a college of applied arts and technology focused on our local community. We want to ensure that local students have the opportunity to become nurses, educational assistants, polices officers, chefs – in other words, a whole array of career opportunities that are needed in the community. At the same time, we try to balance being a college that serves a much broader area. For example, in our environmental and natural resource cluster 80 per cent of our students come from outside the area – so that means we have, in effect, a magnet campus that draws people from far and wide and a set of specializations that contribute to fields more broadly. We are a mid-sized college and we like to take advantage of that. With about 6,000 students, we can offer a good array of programs but, nevertheless, ensure that the environment is highly personalized for students. Applied learning is a student preference and a college priority. The challenge is to take it from a very good level to a level of excellence.
Can you talk about growth at Fleming?
In terms of our priorities, we have identified three key growth areas. These are the environment and natural resources; the health and social services; and skilled trades, in particular. We do believe in growth, because that contributes to institutional vitality because you are always renewing your programs to make sure that they are current and appealing. And, ultimately, growth contributes to financial stability.
What’s your strategy for growth?
It requires new programs – new programs really contribute to the revitalization of the program mix. We also have to think about what the college is specifically known for and what we wish to say to potential students. We focus on what we call a core promise: that students will not only learn at the college but that they will belong to a tightly knit community while having a chance to work toward their career and personal goals. The catch phrase encapsulating those three components is “learn, belong, become.”
Are the growing enrolments you’ve experienced straining your resources in any way?
There are always growing pains involved in growth so I wouldn’t be dismissive of those; however, we have to look objectively at the resources we have in comparison to, for example, colleges that have grown considerably over longer periods of time and therefore have much greater space restrictions. On a comparative basis, we are in reasonable shape there, not having those space pressures some of the larger colleges in the system have.
This year, some of your extra students are from India. How does the recruitment of students from India fit in with your college’s priorities?
It’s a responsibility of a college to look outward toward the world, and connect the community and the world more broadly. Having international students come to Fleming is important to us as it enriches the experience for all students and helps expand opportunities toward a more global horizon. I’m in India because we have had our first group of students come from India this past fall and have quite a large number of applications for January and I think it is important that we have a really significant understanding of their educational backgrounds and aspirations and how to best explain the opportunities to them so that there is a good match between the students, the program and the college opportunities at Fleming.
Are there plans to broaden your recruitment of international students?
Right now, India is a particular focus, and we are very grateful that we are able to work with Centennial College in Toronto, which is very experienced in international education and is an excellent partner both in Canada and India. But a healthy approach will be one that is diverse. As our initiatives in India mature, we would like to take some of the same approaches and focus on other parts of the world.
During your experience working in Ontario colleges have you seen the role of colleges evolving?
The role has evolved but it can – and should – evolve farther and faster. I do believe that colleges can play a broader role in post-secondary education. In particular, there is a greater societal need for applied education. Much of that requires education at the degree level, so we welcome much greater work with universities – collaborative work that allows students to combine more effectively the best of college education and the best of university education. Personally, I don’t believe that we are there yet, despite the fact that we, for example, have an excellent working relationship with our local partner, Trent University. There is a distance to go along this path, and I would welcome a faster pace of evolution.