Holland College needs to have more of a presence in Kings County, a member of the Eastern P.E.I. Chamber of Commerce said.
"I think it is important, particularly for the development of the rural communities," Alan MacPhee said.
MacPhee is on the chamber's board, which invited Holland College to offer a presentation at Kings Playhouse in Georgetown on Jan. 12. College president Sandy MacDonald presented mostly on the college's new strategic plan, but discussion afterward focused on its role in Kings County.
While the college's Georgetown centre is operational, its adult education centres in Montague and Souris were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"(So) you can't get adult education in Kings County now," MacPhee said. "It's all virtual."
He notes that people in rural communities can have a harder time accessing virtual classes due to internet issues or technology limitations. He believes it would be mutually beneficial for the centres to be reopened and for each to have a staff member for locals to go to if they need guidance and support.
"To have that connection, you have to have some sort of presence," he said.
MacDonald is all for working more closely with rural communities and for taking suggestions on how to do it. The services Holland College offers ultimately come down to the population's demand, he said.
"(Which) depends very much on where the industry goes."
For example, discussion was raised toward some programs the college has cut or suspended in recent years due to low attendance rates, such as photography, theatre and dance performance, and commercial diving. While some are available in different forms, others simply can't be provided if they aren't sustainable, MacDonald said.
AT A GLANCE:
• Holland College doesn't make a profit off of most of its programs, college president Sandy MacDonald said.
• That's because the college focuses on applied learning, which entails various operating expenses. The college's funding comes primarily from the province, student tuition fees and special projects – in that order.
• The exception to this is the business-related programs, which mostly consist of in-classroom work.
Much of his presentation was framed around how Holland College is working to counter labour shortages on P.E.I., which both he and MacPhee see as prevalent in rural communities. Rural Islanders who can't find work often move away or off P.E.I. altogether.
Doug Currie, the college's vice-president, also attended the presentation and said population retention is one of the first steps, as well as focusing more on P.E.I.'s international communities.
"We need to think about what we're doing and how we're doing it," he said. "And we can't rely solely on the domestic (population)."
The chamber recently secured funding to conduct a two-year study on what P.E.I.'s population and labour market needs to become more sustainable, which may prove a helpful resource for it and the college, MacPhee said.
"We both have a problem, but we don't have the solution yet," he said. "The fact they came out here and engaged is really what we were looking for."
Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. Twitter.com/dnlbrown95