Originally started by the Ford Motor Company in the 1940s as a trade school for workers in Windsor’s booming automobile manufacturing industry, today the St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology offers a mix of programs to meet the area’s changing needs. The decline in manufacturing has given Windsor a reputation as Canada’s unemployment capital. But industry appears to be rebounding, and the city is working to bring in new businesses. Meanwhile, tourists are attracted by Windsor’s proximity to the United States, and retirees are moving here to enjoy its relatively warm climate. John Strasser, president of St. Clair College, talks about its evolution and what’s ahead.
How have Windsor’s changes, in terms of jobs and industry, influenced the college and what it offers?
With manufacturing, we had to solidify the base, because it’s not going away. We created the Ford Centre for Excellence in Manufacturing. Ford gave us $3-million to help create that centre, which is a $40-million project. That’s the largest amount of money that Ford has given to any post-secondary institution anywhere in Canada. The centre has much of the latest technology, although it’s not all necessarily aimed at the auto industry any more.
The hospitality and tourism industry is growing here. We have a casino, we have great food, we have the proximity to Detroit. We’ve created the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts. We’ve brought in music, theatre, the performing arts. All of our students have to be able to sing, act and dance, a “triple threat,” as it’s known in the industry.
The biggest program that we’ve strategically moved forward on, quite apart from these other two, is the health area. [It ranges] from cardiovascular technology all the way to nursing and paramedic and pharmacy and practical nursing.
What percentage of graduates are going into manufacturing now, compared with in the college’s early days?
In 1968-69, it was heavily toward the technology end. Today, less than one third would be technology-manufacturing based.
How are your students being trained in other fields, such as health care?
We’ve always been very strong in the health area. For example, we built a health sciences centre. Now we are partnering with the Schlegel Villages, a long-term care facility. They are putting their first facility in a college campus in Ontario on our property. It will allow for training for our students as well as placements, jobs and all that. The concept of being able to do some of the practising right on our campus is great, from our perspective.
Are you working with local business groups to determine other needs there?
Any time that we have an idea that we believe is worth exploring, we form a program advisory committee that is almost 100 per cent drawn from the area around us and the people that are in the industry. After we validate where we are in terms of the concept, we move it forward to an actual offering of a program. We have an advisory committee for every program that we offer and they meet on a regular basis throughout the year. We feel we are very plugged in to the community around us, that’s for sure.
What are you hearing from them?
Confidence in manufacturing is slowly changing. I think we’ve seen the bottom, because we are starting to see a climb in terms of first-year registrations in that area. But more and more, people are looking at the other areas that the college can serve. What can we do with the greenhouse industry? What can we do with the wineries? What more can we do in terms of areas like sports management? The performing arts? The region understands that we can play a role. They’re coming forward with ideas and saying, “Hey, do you think that you can do this? Are you interested in taking a look at this facility, or in partnering with us?”
What kind of students do you get?
The demographics in this area, because of unemployment and declining enrolments in public schools, are not in our favour. The population is declining in the age group that would come to a post-secondary institution. We have to be looking at people who have decided, after being away from college, to come back. We’re fighting the demographics. But on the other hand, if you get somebody coming in and they’re more than 25, the chances of them being more serious about their studies are a whole lot higher.
Where is the college headed?
We’ve structured who we are in terms of the technology change and manufacturing, so we’ve got that covered. We’re concentrating on hospitality and tourism, because there will be more and more of that, as more and more people will retire into this area and are looking for things to do. Then the big one will be health care, because it will be needed, because of the people coming here who are older and will need more care. So we’re getting ready for that.
St. Clair College
Key areas: health sciences; business and information technology; engineering technologies and skilled trades; media, art, design, hospitality.
Student population: 8,200 full-time and 20,000 part-time students on four campuses
Students who come directly from high school: 36 per cent
Students who come from another post secondary institution: 39 per cent
Average age of students: 26
Employer satisfaction rating: 94 per cent
Graduate satisfaction rating: 80 per cent