Reaching Out to Meet Rural, Northern and Aboriginal Needs

by Kim Fontaine

Addressing barriers to education for people living in isolated communities, in particular First Nations, is a long-standing priority of the University of Saskatchewan. By fostering internal and external partnerships, the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education (CCDE) strives to do its part to bring the University of Saskatchewan to the people of this province and beyond.

Through collaboration between the CCDE and internal partners like the Colleges of Arts and Science, Education, Agriculture and Bioresources, Kinesiology, Pharmacy and Nutrition as well as ITS, U of S Library, ULC and EMAP, along with external partners that include regional colleges and First Nations throughout the province, the U of S continues to expand program access and student support.

As Bob Cram, executive director of the CCDE commented: “In the foundational documents on Aboriginal initiatives and outreach and engagement, the university proposed the creation of the CCDE and gave to it the mandate of nurturing opportunities for students throughout Saskatchewan and elsewhere to participate in our degree-level programs, through off-campus courses and distributed delivery methods. Similarly, distributed learning was foreseen as one of many ways to better meet the needs of Aboriginal students. In the CCDE, we take this mandate seriously and seek ways of supporting colleges in outreach efforts.”

Cram went on to cite some examples of the CCDE offerings. Through collaboration with CCDE, the College of Education’s Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) and the College of Arts and Science, the University now delivers a complete off-campus Bachelor of Education program in several Aboriginal communities. Classes are offered in a face-to-face setting and over 200 students are currently enrolled in these programs.

Similarly, certified teachers and BEd holders can now take their Master’s in Educational Administration at sites in Melfort, Yorkton, Swift Current, La Ronge, Prince Albert and surrounding areas. This program is collaboratively delivered between the CCDE and the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration. Typically, it is a three-year part-time program that runs in cohorts of 25 to 30 students.

CCDE also oversees a Bachelor of Arts in Northern Studies program that is now offered at four Northern sites: Buffalo Narrows, Creighton, Ile a la Crosse and La Ronge. Northlands College has pioneered a tutor-centered approach that allows students to take distance delivered classes in a fully supported environment.

Enrolments in Northlands College have quadrupled since this program started four years ago. CCDE has been key in working with Northlands and U of S departments on flexible class delivery to meet the needs of Northern students.

Changes in the provincial nursing program have created new opportunities for the university to engage distance learners. A one-year nursing pre-professional year is now required and is typically taken in Arts and Science before students can apply for admission to the College of Nursing. Working with campus partners and regional colleges, the CCDE now delivers a fully supported nursing pre-professional year at most major centres in the province.

Cheri Spooner, director for the CCDE’s Distance Programs, Off-campus and Certificate Programs area adds: “The U of S, mainly through CCDE and the College of Arts and Science, has been working collaboratively with regional colleges and other off-campus partners for over 25 years to deliver U of S courses and programs to communities outside Saskatoon. Regional colleges are our gateway to communities throughout the province.”

The Second Integrated Plan had a strong focus on community and aboriginal engagement, innovation, and internal and external partnership. As Cram noted: “Who knew strategic alignment could be so much fun? And that’s what it is when the themes of an integrated plan resonate with the passions of why we do what we do in the CCDE.”