It’s always an inspiring experience to drop by the Amherst NSCC campus on South Albion Street for even a short visit. In contrast to the cheerless side of our lives that we see too often nowadays, the mood there is invariably bright, positive and full of promise for the future of our youth and community.
I credit the principal Don McCormack, and his leadership team and staff, for having the vision and commitment that contributes to this spirit in the Amherst and Springhill campuses.
Running this institution does not come without its challenges however; foremost of which is the college’s commitment that every high school graduate in our region have access to an affordable post-secondary education.
NSCC deals with the “affordability” issue through reasonable tuition and fees, and its financial aid programs that provide help in the form of scholarships, bursaries and, as required, assistance for students facing unexpected financial emergencies.
Two weeks ago, we read in this newspaper about the NSCC Make Way fundraising campaign, underway in the province and our county, aimed at significantly increasing the funds available to the above aid programs.
McCormack, in a recent talk to members of the Amherst Rotary Club, mentioned that the campaign had already achieved over a third of its $1.5-million target for Cumberland County, a goal designed to take care of NSCC’s student financial aid needs for many years into the future.
While this is a very encouraging start, he also had some cautionary observations to share with his audience concerning the financial stresses he sees at play in our county and their impact on our youth’s chances of benefitting from an NSCC post-secondary education.
He related that “One of the things I’ve really noticed in the last five years is the number of students who are really struggling to get through their programs, and I’m not talking academically. I’m talking about their financial ability to get to the end of the program.”
He also sees a widening of the gap in Cumberland County between students that are in good financial shape and those who are falling into, or are already living in poverty. This is not a good sign for our community, not to mention our youth.
And all this lends further urgency to the local economic growth challenge that is now our community’s top priority. It’s also not hard to conclude that our Cumberland campuses face a steeper hill to climb in supporting needy students, when compared to their sister campuses in larger population centres such as the HRM and surrounding communities.
A comparison of data for Amherst versus HRM tells a dramatic story featuring a higher unemployment rate for Amherst of 8.8 per cent versus 6.1 per cent for HRM, lower annual household income of $51,500 versus $71,200, and population shrinkage of two per cent versus growth of five per cent for HRM over the past five years.
At the same time, while our local NSCC is vulnerable to weakness in our local economy, it’s paradoxical that it is the institution that is most likely to have a positive effect on our economic health – if it was able to fund the increase in graduations an aggressive growth strategy would require.
In a recent article, I raised the issue of “human capital” as a critical ingredient for economic success in a community. Think of human capital as a measure of the economic value of an employee's attributes – and also, as a composite of all the knowledge, skills, experience, judgment, and wisdom possessed by individuals in a community.
It’s recognized that long-term economic growth in large and small communities depends increasingly on improvements in this human capital. So, the more of our young people that we can assist in getting a first-class, post-secondary education, and more importantly retaining them in the community, the better.
Fortunately for us, we are blessed with our own top-notch post-secondary educational institution in NSCC, whose main purpose in life is to build human capital right here in our county……and they do an outstanding job at it.
We just need to support them where it matters by giving generously to their very worthy cause.
Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at email@example.com.