Class Notes: Future uncertain for VSB's Continuing Education

Nadia Carvalho was so impressed by the cooking class she took through the Vancouver School Board that she poured her creativity into a VSB continuing education drawing course.

She hadn’t sketched since elementary school. “I went from never drawing before to quickly producing some pretty decent drawings and suddenly I was hooked,” she wrote in an email to the Courier. “Great courses, affordable prices and excellent instructors.”

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Carvalho took a speed dating cooking class that registered only one man around the same time she read Courier articles about the Vancouver School Board’s continuing education revenue shortfall.

VSB management recommended cutting continuing education during budget deliberations this year and last year. It predicted a $196,155 budget shortfall for 2012-13. The shortfall in 2011-12 was $366,505 or $612,652 including administration costs.

The VSB estimated the same shortfall for this year as last year and will update this projection in early November.

VSB management estimated last spring that cutting continuing education would save the district $615,000 annually if it included $150,000 in rental income, but it would only save $399,000 in 2013-14 because of transition costs.

Trustees voted in April to continue the program for another year to see if further changes to the 106-year-old program could boost revenue.

Peter Andrade, manager of continuing education programs and administration, said the board has added 54 part-time instructors and more than 120 courses to its fall offerings in an attempt to spark new interest.

Continuing ed staff at the board recently received training about Facebook and Twitter to publicize their offerings through social media.

Courses started Sept. 23, with others starting later, so Andrade said he couldn’t yet compare enrolment numbers from this year to last year.

He said the board aims to earn an income of a minimum of 250 per cent of the expenses, including overhead of a course, although it does run courses that earn 150 per cent of expenses.

Perennially popular are language, cooking and recreation courses, according to Andrade. Some computer and finance courses were dropped from this term’s calendar due to past low enrolment.

Too many cooking courses only involve watching someone else cook, Carvalho said, and courses involving participation are often much more expensive than those at the VSB.

Continuing ed developed a new website starting two years ago and has worked to improve its marketing.

“The program guide, they don’t have a lot of money to spend on it. It doesn’t convey what actually lies behind the doors,” Carvalho said.

Carvalho, who has a master’s degree and works as a planner for the City of Coquitlam, previously looked to colleges for continuing education courses and she suspects other highly educated people do the same.

Her VSB drawing class attracted teenagers, seniors and wannabe artists looking to strengthen their skills before entering Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

“If I was to consider changing career directions, it’s a really affordable place to start testing that out,” Carvalho said.
Time will tell if the efforts to revive continuing education are working, said Andrade.

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