Like most individuals, businesses, institutions, and communities across Ontario, Conestoga and the members of our college community have been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the many challenges faced in 2020 and 2021, we have continued to achieve many successes, including strong financial results, a significant digital transformation to support remote learning, and excellent outcomes in our efforts to protect the health and safety of our employees and students.
As we look forward to dealing with the longterm consequences of the pandemic, we continue to face a somewhat uncertain future. The date of full reopening remains dependent on external factors such as vaccination rates and the transmissibility of new COVID-19 variants. There will be an increased need for re-skilling displaced workers as businesses realign to post-pandemic realities and as many low- and mid-skilled jobs disappear as the result of the accelerated adoption of automation. The pandemic has also highlighted the urgent need for additional front-line workers to serve Ontario’s health-care needs.
Conestoga is well-positioned to contribute solutions to these challenges thanks to our strong ties to employers, our high-quality programming, and our growing capacity. The following strategic plan outlines how we plan to address these challenges and emerge stronger than ever in the post-COVID-19 period.
Conestoga’s growing network of campuses serves approximately 55,000 full and part-time learners each year. In 2020-21, the college’s diverse student body included more than 8,000 international students from over 80 different countries. These learners have been drawn to Conestoga to pursue a high-quality education that will help them prepare for career and life success.
87% Conestoga graduates obtained employment within 6 months of graduation
Committed to continuous improvement and positive student outcomes, Conestoga is a provincial leader in overall student retention. The 2019-2020 graduation rate of 72.4 per cent is among the very best for all Ontario’s public colleges, comparing very favourably with the provincial average of 66 per cent.
Not only are students graduating at a higher rate, but they are also putting their credentials to good use. According to the most recent provincial key performance indicator data, nearly 87 per cent of Conestoga graduates obtained employment within 6 months of graduation, compared to the provincial average of 85.5. More than 87 per cent of Conestoga students indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied that their program was providing skills and knowledge that would help them achieve their career goals. The same level of satisfaction was indicated by students across the provincial college system.
Almost 93 per cent of employers confirmed they were satisfied with the skills and knowledge of new employees that Conestoga trained, slightly higher than the provincial average of 91 per cent. Importantly, these strong outcomes represent the full spectrum of program offerings across Conestoga’s growing network of campuses. In the community, our graduates own more than 5,000 local businesses and more than 50 per cent of local adults have participated in Conestoga education and training activities. Our alumni network is over 150,000 strong.
From a research perspective, Conestoga is ranked among Canada’s top 20 research colleges and holds the country’s highest ranking for Industry Research Intensity. Our research funding portfolio of more than $37 million includes more than $2 million in new funding awarded in 2020-2021. Over the last year, more than 220 faculty and 4,200 students were engaged in applied research activities, including curriculum, capstone and independent applied research projects.
Conestoga’s strengths in delivering effective education, training, and applied research solutions will help accelerate the post-pandemic recovery of our region, its people, and the province more generally.
For 2021-2024, Conestoga will build on a long history of success as we continue to focus on enhancing the quality of programs and services, expanding capacity to address the growing and diverse needs of the learners and communities we serve, and creating a strong and sustainable future. While the pace of change continues to accelerate, exacerbated by the many changes required to adapt to changing conditions through the global COVID-19 pandemic, our direction for the next three years is consistent with our previous commitments as outlined in the 2017-2020 Strategic Plan as well as our Strategic Mandate Agreement with the Province of Ontario.
We will do this through several important pillars that include ensuring financial sustainability, continuing with expansion plans, supporting international students, optimizing human resource strategies, pursuing a more sustainable college, and thereby growing our competitive advantage.
The pandemic temporarily reduced college revenues while increasing costs related to staffing, health and safety, and technology as Conestoga made important investments in a fully digital infrastructure to maintain high quality education opportunities delivered remotely. As we move forward, additional investments will be required to build and maintain digital capacity. Conestoga will ensure a bright financial future through continued enrolment growth, responsible management of revenues and expenses, enhancement of revenue-generating opportunities, and exploration of potential governmental and nongovernmental funding supports.
In terms of expansion, we will continue to focus on growth and expanding our footprint across southwestern Ontario to support the needs of individuals, businesses, and communities as we evolve as a provincial leader in polytechnic education focused on applied learning and applied research.
Studies have shown that proximity to a campus is a key factor in a student’s decision to attend postsecondary or enter the workforce
Within the next 10-15 years, our goal is to host 7-8 major campuses across southwestern Ontario, including Cambridge (Reuter), Cambridge (Fountain Street), Doon, Downtown Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph, Brantford and Milton, with at least 4,000 full-time postsecondary students on each campus. These larger campuses will increase the college’s capacity to support the workforce needs of the communities we serve while also providing cost efficiencies that will support investment in a more comprehensive range of quality services and academic supports for students.
We will complete the development of Ontario’s largest skilled trades campus on-time and on-budget, with a scheduled opening in Fall 2022.
In addition, we will continue to develop satellite hubs across the province, including in remote and rural communities, to address local needs and provide access to programming in highdemand areas such as health care and English-language testing.
Numerous studies have shown that proximity to a campus is a key factor in a student’s decision to attend post-secondary or enter the workforce, with an 80-kilometer radius being the farthest a student will travel on a regular basis to attend school. This is especially true for middle-and lower-income families who may struggle with the financial implications of sending a student away to school, as well as for older students, who may balance learning with pressing family or work responsibilities. These demographics are strongly represented in Conestoga’s student population.
While some of these distance, financial or lifestyle barriers can be overcome with online programming, it is clear that many students need hands-on training and in-person instruction in addition to online courses.
Therefore, it is imperative that Conestoga continue to develop its network of full-service campuses as well as local training hubs as we strive to meet workforce needs. Added to these efforts will be the continued development of remote and hybrid learning opportunities that will provide flexible learning options for students seeking alternatives to in-person programming.
International students will continue to play an important role in Conestoga’s growth. We have seen clear indications that the demand from international students for Conestoga programming will continue to remain high, and even exceed pre-pandemic levels thanks in part to ambitious immigration targets set by the federal government. The college will continue efforts to attract, retain, and serve international students from countries around the world in support of Canada’s immigration strategy.
Retaining an outstanding employee team who can deliver excellence in programs and services is a key component in Conestoga’s future growth and success, and will help ensure the college remains a leading educational destination for local and international students alike. We are committed to creating an inclusive, welcoming, and healthy campus environment that meets the needs of both learners and employees, and will work towards determining the optimum balance of in-person and remote programming moving forward. Ultimately, this means establishing measures and targets for service delivery to ensure that students and employees are getting the high-quality experience they expect and deserve.
Conestoga is also committed to supporting Canada’s clean growth and climate change goals. All aspects of managing current facilities and planning new infrastructure will continue to be approached through a sustainability lens as we work towards improving energy efficiency, reducing GHG emissions, and implementing waste reduction strategies. Environmental considerations are included in a growing number of Conestoga programs as we prepare a new generation of workers to support the sustainability goals of Ontario’s businesses.
Ultimately, each of these pillars helps us create a competitive advantage that differentiates Conestoga from other post-secondary institutions. We will continue to build on this distinct advantage through our ongoing efforts to prioritize student and employee engagement, deliver technology-enriched programs and services, foster an inclusive and welcoming global campus, prioritize student needs, and continue to ensure graduates are well-prepared to meet employer needs and launch successful careers.