St. Thomas University will close its college of extension in Miramichi next year, leaving behind its physical foothold in the region the school was founded in more than 150 years ago.
“Kids could stay there maybe if they had part time jobs,” said STU Fine Arts professor Steven Peacock, who would commute to NBCC Miramichi to teach university music classes last school year. “They could stay there for a year at and save some money and then come to St. Thomas Fredericton. It made sense for St. Thomas if they were getting the uptake at that level and they would come spend their third and fourth-year here.”
But that uptake has slowed to a trickle. University of New Brunswick and Mount Allison University pulled their support for the study-at-home platform last year and the year before, respectively, and enrolment fell from over 100 to 20 students since 2001.
Peacock said it seemed to him a good percentage of students transferred to STU Fredericton after exhausting the mostly-introductory courses available in Miramichi. The idea works in theory, but not with such low enrolment.
Caden Bass was one student Peacock taught in Miramichi who came to STU’s main campus to continue his studies in his third year. He agreed that the program did exactly what it was meant to.
“For those living there, it helped to save quite a bit of money, since you wouldn’t really need to pay for living and food if you were living with your parents, which was the case for most.”
By Bass’s estimation, about 90 per cent of students were recent high school graduates from around Miramichi.
St. Thomas communications director Jeffrey Carleton said only eight students had registered for courses in Miramichi. Of those, four decided to come to Fredericton in September, and only one has accepted the application fee refund offered by the school. He said the school reached out to them in February, on a one-on-one basis.
“Once UNB left and Mount Allison left, it just became impossible for us as a single institution to deliver the program,” Carleton said.
Bass said the loss of university courses in Miramichi is a big one for the region. The teachers, some STU Fredericton professors who commute, some part-time staff, and some who teach both NBCC and STU courses at the campus, were every bit as inspirational and professional as the one’s in Fredericton, he added.
“The only real difference was that it was two buildings rather than five,” he said. “You could already get a feel for university life while still living at home.”
Peacock, too, will miss teaching in Miramichi.
“Maybe it was just the feeling that I was coming into where they were,” he said. “[Students] certainly appreciated that. So in a sense, when it began there was an implicit, ‘thanks for doing this, buddy.’ But aside from that, I think you would see the same progress and growth in students… It’s a little bit of humanity that we’ll miss.”