St. Lawrence College suspends its two-year journalism diploma

By Carys Mills

St. Lawrence College is suspending its two-year journalism diploma, citing low enrolment and a lack of interest.

The program, taught on the college’s Cornwall, Ont., campus, didn’t accept any first-year students this fall. After the current cohort of second-year and part-time students graduate in June, the college doesn’t plan to offer the program.

“It was simply related to soft enrolment. We were not able to recruit students in sufficient numbers to make the program sustainable,” said Don Fairweather, dean of the Cornwall campus.

Fairweather said about 20 students would need to enrol in first year for the program to be “economically viable.” Last year, a dozen or fewer students started the program. Only six followed through to second year, Fairweather said.

He said it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. But one theme emerged in conversations about the program and industry.

“With the demise or the transition away from print media to other forms of media, people sometimes have the perception that there’s less opportunity in that sector,” Fairweather said, adding that’s partially a misconception, since there are still opportunities for people with communication skills.

The program included photojournalism, communications, politics, multimedia, social media, advertising and layout classes. All the instructors were part-time, said program director Terry Tinkess.

Tinkess said the program, started in 2007, never really got the traction it needed. He said between 40 and 100 applications were received each year.

But many prospective students didn’t pick journalism as their first choice, so didn’t enrol once accepted, Tinkess said.

“There are a lot of programs out there. Being the new kid on the block, we don’t have the reputation that Carleton (University) or Algonquin (College) or Ryerson (University) does,” he said, adding he hopes a new version of St. Lawrence’s program could come back in the future.

Tinkess said he had mixed feelings about the program’s small classes. “It was always sad that we didn’t have that many students,” he said, but learning in small groups is “something special.”

Francis Racine, 22, graduated from the program in 2013.  While he liked the small class sizes, Racine said he would have liked more hands-on community journalism worked into the program.

If the program were in Kingston, where the college has a campus, there might have been more opportunities, said Racine, who has reported for the Le Journal de Cornwall since graduating.

Despite his experience, Racine said he’s worried about having a diploma from a suspended program. “If I do apply for another job somewhere, the fact they closed the program might actually look really bad.… It bothers me tremendously that they’re closing it,” he said. “I’m holding a diploma from a program that doesn’t exist any more.”

But Fairweather said the suspension decision, which was made in 2013, doesn’t lessen the quality of the diploma.

“The fact that the program is discontinued is not a reflection on the quality of the program,” he said. “It’s just an economic reality that you can’t run a program if you don’t bring in enough income to pay the bills.”

Carys Mills

Carys Mills has worked as a reporter for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Windsor Star and Ottawa Citizen. She graduated from Ryerson University’s undergraduate journalism program in 2011 with a minor in politics.

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