The college has learned a number of lessons to share with international educators in this country. The goal is to implement best practices and ensure that students have an outstanding experience.
Faced with declining domestic enrolments, New Caledonia has been recruiting international students for a number of years. Recently, those efforts have paid off. International numbers tripled from 460 in 2014 to 1,445 in 2018. However, with a surge of new arrivals, campus administrators were left scrambling to meet all the students' needs.
Some of these challenges were caused by the students themselves. Vice-president of Academics Chad Thompson says that in January 2018, approximately 75 students arrived without having confirmed they would be coming. Some had applied to limited capacity cohort programs and had to switch to other programs due to a lack of space. The college scrambled at the last minute to hire more faculty to meet the demand, especially in business, one of the most popular programs for international students.
In some cases, students were reluctant to speak up about problems out of a misplaced fear that their visas would be cancelled and they would be sent home. As a result, some of the issues that students raised at last July's meeting dated back two years.
"We were glad to have the meeting to allow students to voice their concerns," says Thompson. "The students showed passion for their education and it made us a better educational institution. We have been able to make changes to offer a better educational experience."
n light of the student feedback at the forum, the college has implemented a number of policies and best practices:
It is important to have full-time faculty on campus rather than part-time teachers who give their lecture and then go home. Faculty need to have time to support and guide their international students outside the classroom.
College operations staff are integrated into the recruitment process. "We have made back-end adjustments to prepare for what courses to offer and the number of students who will be arriving in each program," Thompson says.
International student orientation has been dramatically expanded. During orientation, staff explain how the Canadian education system works, how to access services and discuss student safety. Orientation is conducted in small groups to make sure that student questions are addressed.
Support and information needs to be provided throughout the year, not just at orientation week. Students faced with jet lag and culture shock may not be able to absorb everything during the first month of school.
Working with the college, the CNC Students' Union established a 24-hour multilingual support line for both domestic and international students.(It's similar to that provided by international student insurance company Guard Me).
The student union is reaching out to international students to integrate them into campus life, including athletics, clubs and social activities.
Educational institutions need to ensure that housing is available in their community when they register hundreds of new students. At New Caledonia, Director of International Education Barb Old has arranged for homestays and places for students in residence. In addition, she has hired an external contractor to help international students find apartments in the community, if they decide to go that route. Says Thompson: "So far Prince George has been able to meet the housing needs, but we don't want to overstretch the resources of the community."