The number of students in academic programs heading back to class at Vancouver Island University this fall remains steady.
The institution’s upward trend in recent years was reversed last fall with an enrolment dip the equivalent of about 143 full-time students at the Nanaimo campus, which officials attributed to uncertainty about the labour market and the month-long faculty strike in the spring of 2011.
Those numbers did not improve this year – in fact, there was another slight drop.
Fred Jacklin, registrar and director of enrolment services, said so far, the university enrolled students in 23,632 course seats this fall, compared to 23,753 last year.
Course seats refer to individual courses and a full-time student takes about five courses at a time.
“We’re down 20 enrolments, which is negligible,” he said. “It’s not as good as I had hoped. We’re always hoping for an increase, of course.”
This year’s numbers, which are subject to change as students may continue adding or dropping courses for the first week or so, represent a 5.6-per cent drop from 2010, when the university enrolled students in 25,035 course seats, said Jacklin.
He said it is difficult to tell why the numbers have not risen, but declining enrolment in local high schools, a competitive marketplace and the teacher strike could be factors.
“It’s certainly conceivable the strike is having a bit of a lasting impact,” said Jacklin.
The university recently completed an enrolment management planning process and now staff plan to look at recommendations from that process to boost recruitment and retention of students, he said.
“VIU still has a tremendous range of quality programs,” said Jacklin. “I don’t see any reason why our numbers aren’t just going to continue to grow.”
Steve Beasley, executive director of the VIU Students’ Union, believes that numbers will not get back to 2010 levels any time soon.
“We know anecdotally that people are having a harder time affording school,” he said.
“We know that there are lots of young people not returning.”
Beasley said rising tuition fees and living costs are pushing more people out of school – he points to a recent Bank of Montreal survey that found students worry more about finances than they do about grades – and some are questioning whether going to school will get them a higher income.
“You would have to know your post-graduate income would be significantly better,” he said.