The NWT's French-language college is testing the territory's appetite for a bilingual first-year university program in Yellowknife.
Josée Clermont, director general of Collège Nordique Francophone, said the goal of such a program is twofold: allowing students who graduate from French immersion programs to keep their language active, and improving the educational outcomes of NWT students.
A survey for parents of children in high-school French immersion programs is now being circulated. It's the second of three market research steps Clermont said the college is taking.
The first step involved interviewing 64 students at French immersion and francophone schools. The college found 82 percent of students wanted to maintain their French after high school. Half said they wanted to continue into post-secondary study, the majority in science, math, and medicine.
"So I thought, 'Wow, this is great,' because those are the types of courses that are offered in a first-year polytechnic university program," Clermont said.
Of those students, just under half said they would consider a bilingual first-year university program offered in the territory.
The third phase of research will involve interviewing students from French programs who went for south for their education but, "for all kinds of reasons," did not finish school – as well as those who have finished, Clermonth said. "We want to make sure that we give them tools and offer the environment that will make them successful."
The college is conducting market research while it more broadly works to collaborate with the polytechnic university being developed by the NWT government. The college envisages a wing in the university where two or three courses are offered in French.
Clermont called this an "affiliation model," saying a similar arrangement exists between Prince Edward Island's Collège de l'Île and Holland College. Under this model each institution keeps its own governance while students can take courses offered by either college and get credit for them. In the program Clermont envisions, Collège Nordique's NWT students would take university courses developed by a southern partner institution.
There are two main advantages to creating such a program, Clermont said: working toward the federal government's bilingualism targets and supporting more students in their academic success. With the federal official languages action plan adding $70 million in core funding for organizations, Ottawa hopes to reverse a trend of slowing bilingualism growth –and fewer francophone people outside Quebec.
The program would also be a win for the NWT government, Clermont said, as keeping students here for their first year means less student financial assistance paid to universities outside the territory.
Clermont said she had shared the idea with then-education minister, and now premier, Caroline Cochrane – as well as Tom Weegar, the associate deputy minister in charge of Aurora College's transition to a polytechnic.
The recent passing of the NWT's Post-secondary Education Act marks a first step toward creating a bilingual first-year program, Clermont said. The act creates a structure for the review and approval of programs at the territory's colleges, universities, and private training institutions.
In terms of prospective partners down south, Clermont said an arrangement exists with the University of Alberta and more will be sought. Funding must also be found and the accreditation process started before a program can be launched. The college has submitted a financial proposal to Heritage Canada with help from the territory's education department.
"I see the post-secondary system like a mosaic," said Clermont, "because there's also Dechinta and other initiatives that already exist, and we're creating the future.
"So it's really exciting. And we're, we're really excited to be part of it."