Lambton College grateful for community support: president

As Lambton College faces a funding hit from federal cuts to international student visas, community support has been welcome, the college’s president says.

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“We’re extremely grateful,” said Rob Kardas about letters from community members, including Sarnia’s mayor, to federal officials seeking respite for the Sarnia school.

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Sarnia city council also recently passed a motion supporting those letters.

When the federal government in January announced a 35 per cent cut to international student spaces, with the resulting level to be sustained for two years, people in Sarnia-Lambton immediately were calling asking how they could help, Kardas said.

“You didn’t even have to ask.”

How that cut — Immigration Minister Marc Miller has said his department will issue no more than 360,000 new visas this year — will impact Lambton’s enrolment isn’t clear yet, as provinces are sorting out the details of how the population-based cuts will be applied, Kardas said.

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“We’re hearing probably end of March,” for more details, he said.

Little impact is expected for the summer term, he said.

“Our admissions tend to be very early for any term, so at the time of the Jan. 22, we were just on the verge of closing admissions for May announcement,” Kardas said.

The impact on September enrolment is murkier.

College officials estimate a $14-million hit to the college’s budget for 2024/2025, and a $30-million reduction the following year.

Lambton has campuses in Sarnia, Mississauga, Toronto and Ottawa.

There have been concerns about potential cap reductions impacting the number of international students in Sarnia, which could affect population growth efforts and local businesses.

But expect reductions to hit first at private-public partnership campuses Queen’s College in Mississauga and Cestar College in Toronto, Kardas said.

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The Ottawa campus is a public-public partnership with Saint Paul University that took in its first 180 students in January, and should also be relatively safe from cuts, depending on how deep they go, he said.

“As long as our cap is high enough, we’re hoping Sarnia-Lambton, the Sarnia campus will not be impacted,” Kardas said, noting there will be no new intakes in September at Queen’s and Cestar. Enrollment at those schools, and in Ottawa, is entirely international students.

Preserving international student levels in Sarnia is key, said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, as Sarnia’s expected growth — to about 87,000 people by 2046 — is predicted in part on attracting newcomers to the community.

Connecting Lambton College graduates with local employers and convincing them to stay is one of the strategies.

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“We need those students to be here,” Bradley said.

In his letter, Bradley calls for cap exemptions for programs designed to meet high labor market demand — such as health care and home building — and for exemptions for Cestar and Queen’s for post-graduate work permit restrictions.

He also asks there to be a grace period until March 31 for student visas to be processed.

Imposing cuts without local consultation, to understand the effects, is a problem, he said.

“It’s the typical federal, provincial rhetoric,” he said.

“We’re their partners when it suits their purpose, and when it doesn’t politically, we’re not.”

Lambton’s public-private partnership schools in Toronto and Mississauga offer student services and supports for housing, co-op and employment, mental health and wellness, settlement services, immigration services and graduate supports, college officials said.

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Student and graduate satisfaction rates at Lambton overall are higher than almost any other college in the province, officials said, adding Lambton’s visa approval rate of 83 per cent in early 2023 was the highest among Ontario public colleges, and there’s an international student portal available letting Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) ensure students are accredited and in compliance with visas.

“Lambton College is one of the good players in this,” Bradley said, noting funding generated from those other campuses has helped pay for major infrastructure projects at the Sarnia campus and in the city, like a new oversized load corridor dock named after Cestar.

With files from Paul Morden

Enrollment at Lambton College campuses

  • Sarnia: 4,100, including 1,900 international
  • Toronto: 4,064 (all international)
  • Mississauga: 3,239 (all international)
  • Ottawa: 180 (all international)

Source: Lambton College

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