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Arts Education on PEI

by Dave Stewart

Earlier this year, the Interactive Multimedia program at Holland College was put on hiatus and an instructor laid off. Recently, an instructor who had been teaching for more than twenty years in the Graphic Design program at Holland College was let go. With widespread speculation about forthcoming retirements in the Media and Communications Department at the College, the future of arts education on PEI, and more specifically, the future of the Graphic Design program at Holland College, these developments have created concern and much discussion in the Island arts community.

Dave Beaton is the Director of Programs at Holland College. Although he is unable to comment publicly regarding Human Resources matters, he is willing to discuss what lies ahead for the Graphic Design program, as well as the impetus for an independent review of the Media programs that is, as of this writing, taking place.

“The Graphic Design program has been a program of longstanding at Holland College,” says Beaton. “I’m thinking probably twenty-five years plus that it’s been a cornerstone of College programming. Certainly our intention is to see the program continue along.”

The Graphic Design program—the current version of the original Commercial Design program that began with the college in 1970—however, has seen a decline in enrollment, according to Beaton. He comments, “In the last number of years we’re seeing that not only do we not have enough applications, we also have vacant seats as well, and in any type of business model you need customers to come to your door in order to keep things vibrant and in order to keep them viable, quite honestly. Certainly with a bit of a government rollback this year, everywhere across the province people are faced with trying to find savings and be the most efficient they can. This gave us pause to reflect upon many programs at Holland College, and when we started looking specifically at the media programs we saw, not unlike other community colleges, a softening of interest in them.”

To address this, the college hired an independent company called Vision Quest to conduct a review of its media programs. Says Beaton, “Our intention with the review is to revitalize, rejuvenate, make sure that (the Media Arts program) is relevant to the needs of the industry, make sure that it’s relevant to the needs of the students. So we’re seeing this, quite honestly, as a positive. The easiest thing to do would be to sit back and do nothing, status quo, and let the trend continue as it may be to a point where you’d have to seriously question whether the program still has merit in continuing it in its current form.”

Beaton quotes a recent in-house example of the type of outcome the college would like to see with its Media Arts program review. “We had a program in our computer family that was suffering from declining enrollments, and that was our Computer Engineering Technology program. We parked it for a year, had Vision Quest come in and do a full review of not only that program, but our other computer-related programs as well, and lo and behold they created our Computer Networking course which had a target of twenty, and every year that we’ve run that, this will be the second year, enrollment’s hit the twenty, whereas in the previous program they were four and five. It’s a success story and we’re looking at this as another opportunity for another success story.”

Vision Quest will present its report to Holland College in November. Beaton notes that nothing will be filed from the company until that time, and therefore, no actions have been taken as a result of this review at this time.

“Our hope at the end of the day,” says Beaton, “is that we have stronger programs as a result of this initiative, and that the programs that have been the foundation and the pillars of the college continue to be so. We want to make sure that we give the Media Arts family of programs every opportunity to ensure that they have the best program offering for students, and to ensure that the program continues for another 25 years.”

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