Algoma plans new hires, classroom renos

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Algoma University plans to hire more staff, bump up student supports and start updating its information technology and classroom spaces in the next year.

The post-secondary institution’s balanced $58.7-million 2021-2022 budget, passed by the board of governors last Thursday, covers the hiring of up to five new full-time faculty members in the coming year and five administrative staff. The university employed slightly more than 60 full-time academics as of late April.

Up to 10 full-time faculty could be hired over the next three years.

Algoma is developing a five-year information technology strategy. The university is budgeting about $1.2 million in the coming year to improve its student information and scheduling systems and communications hardware. Classrooms will also be modernized over a five-year span.

Scheduling software, used to plan out when classes are offered and with how many students, is the priority to complete in the coming year because “work that’s required” is not as intensive as other IT needs, vice-president finance and operations Robert Battisti told The Sault Star. Other work will run two to four years.

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Total IT spending over the next five years will top $6 million.

Algoma is boosting its student support dollars by nearly two-thirds. Focuses include aids for student mental health, assistance to students with learning disabilities and registration help. Staff will be hired “across all parts of the student support system” including Algoma’s Student Success Central and Anishinaabe Initiatives Division, said president Asima Vezina.

The stepped-up supports respond to “a very large jump in our enrolment” with Algoma expecting 2,360 full-time-equivalent students at its campuses in Sault Ste. Marie, Brampton and Timmins in September. That’s a record high for the university.

It would stand to reason you’ve got to bring more support into those areas to help support those students,” said Vezina.

Algoma will spend about $3 million to improve existing, and create new, classrooms. Several classrooms, including one that’s “fairly significant” in size, are planned between The Speak Easy student pub and Great West Life Amphitheatre, said Vezina. Additional work may be done east of Shingwauk Hall.

More than $11 million is earmarked for capital projects.

Indigenous students will be helped by having two elders on campus. Cash is also set aside for faculty to bring elders and traditional knowledge keepers to classrooms. Space will also be created for Indigenous and non-Indigenous faculty to work together on curriculum design and cross-curricular approaches to assessment and research.

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How students will learn this fall is to be determined. Vice-president academic and research Donna Rogers is speaking with the university community “just to get a sense of what are the possibilities, what are people thinking as we move forward?” said Vezina. “We’re looking for people to be innovative and creative.”

She anticipates classes will be offered either face-to-face, virtually or a combination of both delivery models.

More than 50 per cent of Algoma students “want a campus experience,” said Vezina.

I think every campus in the country is having this conversation right now,” she said. “What does the fall look like? I think we’re recognizing that it’s important to remain flexible, but to begin the transition.”

How the university teaches students will be influenced by how many people are vaccinated, Vezina adds.

Registration and student services will be offered virtually and face-to-face in the fall.

The university expects student residence occupancy will increase from less than 15 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020 to “at least” 40 per cent for the 2021-2022 school year, said Battisti.

Vezina expects some adjustments made during the pandemic, including less travelling and online professional development, will continue.

Algoma dubbed its new budget Reopen, Reimagine, Revitalize.

The 21-22 budget is built to support Algoma’s recovery from the current pandemic and prepare it for the expected and continued growth,” Battisti told the governors during their meeting.

The university will “come out of the pandemic better and stronger,” he added, with the campus master plan and academic plan guiding where dollars are spent.

We’re heading into a place in our budgeting, a place where we can invest in people, where we can invest in programs, where we can invest in student learning experiences,” Vezina told the governors. “It feels good.”

btkelly@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @Saultreporter

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