It is not the way an organization typically celebrates a 50th anniversary, but Vancouver Community College (VCC) laid off 52 employees this past summer due to deep budget cuts.
In response, students, ‘staff and concerned community groups have launched a coalition, dubbed ‘Save Our VCC, to rally public support to save the institution’s programs.
The latest cuts add to last fall’s loss of 70 per cent of VCC’s ESL program, with over 70 layoffs, the new round of layoffs brings the total to over 120 within a year. Critics of the layoffs say new tuition fees imposed by the province are contributing to a 30 per cent enrolment drop in adult upgrading, the largest department at VCC. It now costs $408 to take a basic literacy course at the college.
According to the Save Our VCC coalition, more cuts are expected over the next year, thanks to another reduction in VCC’s operating grant from the province and the loss of dedicated funding for adult upgrading.
On top of the layoffs, the college has shuttered the coffee shop and community denture clinic at its downtown campus and frozen funding for campus maintenance and upgrades.
“It feels like death by a thousand cuts,” Ghezal Durrani, a student and elected director of VCC’s student union, told Vancity Buzz. “VCC does so much good for so many people, now we all need to speak up and defend it.”
Durrani’s personal story underscores the unique role VCC has historically played in the heart of Vancouver, serving a predominantly low-income community, with many immigrant families.
The single mother first enrolled in basic English courses, spending several years progressively upgrading her skills, while working and caring for her family. As a result of her success at VCC, she is now studying criminology and planning to join the Vancouver Police Department.
Chris Joyce, the President of VCC’s staff union, says Durrani’s story is a common one at the college.
“VCC is Vancouver’s most affordable community college, giving a hand up to thousands who might not otherwise get the education they need,” said Joyce. “It’s a job creating machine, and it just doesn’t make any sense to put it on the chopping block.”
Joyce adds that concerned stakeholders were forced to take stronger public action after a letter to Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson went unanswered. The group is seeking a commitment to stop the cuts and make access to affordable community education a priority again.
More information about the campaign to pressure the government to invest in the institution can be found at www.SaveOurVCC.ca.