Malaspina’s history is published as an electronic document by the Media Relations & Publications department. The original work was produced as a “Challenge ’93″ project and was researched and written by Brian Schmidt.
| Publisher: Marianne van Toor | Editor: Bob Lane | | Researcher/Writer: Brian Schmidt |
The Early History of Malaspina College
Today, Malaspina College is characterized by the abundance of arbutus trees and green canopies found on its beautiful campus nestled in the hills above the city of Nanaimo – and by its new name: Malaspina University-College. But, by whatever name, it is an institution which routinely interacts with and contributes to many communities on and around Vancouver Island.
Twenty years ago, this beautiful campus did not exist. Twenty-five years ago, the College was in its humble beginning stages at the old Nanaimo Hospital on Kennedy Street. Thirty years ago, having a college on Vancouver Island was only a great vision in the minds of a few dedicated and hard-working people. Before there was a campus, before there were teachers, before there was a name, “Malaspina College” was just an idea. It was an idea that began flowering in the early 1960’s and came to its fruition in 1969 after seven years of strenuous work by a group of ambitious individuals in the areas of central and northern Vancouver Island.
At the outset of the 1960’s, the community college was becoming a real possibility for meeting the post-secondary needs of British Columbia. Community colleges were in abundance down in California and other states, but the concept was quite new to B.C. At the time, the province was growing at a much higher rate than other areas of Canada. As a result, the number of post-secondary institutions would have to be increased. The government could see that in a very short time its only degree granting institution, the University of British Columbia, would not be able to fully meet the educational needs of the rising population. Were community colleges the answer to the province’s educational difficulties? It was a question that sparked interest and controversy all across British Columbia. To answer this question, the government appointed Dr. John B. MacDonald, the new president of the University of British Columbia, to write a report indicating the direction education must take to meet the needs of the future.
Many people did not think that community colleges were the answer. In fact, Dr. John Dennison, who is now a professor of higher education at UBC, says that many people were:
expressing the most peculiar reasons why British Columbia did not need colleges. For example, “We already have a fine university and any other academic institution would be second class,” or “We could never find enough qualified faculty,” or “Formal education is not needed for most jobs; it only makes people dissatisfied,” or “We could never afford it,” or “It would be a haven for educational bums,” and believe it or not, the most incredible argument of all, “The community college is an American idea, and therefore, cannot be any good.”
Dr. MacDonald was not of this opinion. In 1962, he submitted the report, “Higher Education In British Columbia and A Plan for the Future”, which became widely known as the MacDonald Report. He suggested that the government create new universities in heavily populated areas as well as beginning a number of community colleges across the province. He gave two reasons for building regional colleges. These colleges would: (1) take the pressure off the universities which were certain to grow, and (2) create post-secondary educational opportunities for people in more remote areas of British Columbia.
This second point was an important one. Much earlier, in a thesis entitled, “The Junior College In British Columbia”, that dates back to 1932, W.W.D. Knott argued that more students dropped out of high school in the remote areas of British Columbia because they did not have easy access to post-secondary educational opportunities. In California, where colleges existed in abundance, high school drop-out rates were only a fraction of the rates in B.C. He suggested that having colleges in the immediate vicinity gave the students incentive to continue their education.
The MacDonald Report had a great impact on higher education in the province. MacDonald’s argument, coming from a known and respected professional, was enough to calm many skeptics of the college concept. However, as Dr. Dennison said, “there was a great movement at the time that said, ‘sure, let’s have colleges, but put them under the controls of the universities, so that nothing can go wrong; so that we can protect standards.’ Dr. MacDonald said that these new institutions must have freedom. The colleges were given freedom and I think this has been their strongest point.” Dr. MacDonald did make this point very clear in his report. He said:
Two requirements are fundamental to the promotion of excellence in British Columbia’s higher education. These are: first, diversification of opportunity, both in the respect of the kinds of educational experience available, and the places where it can be obtained; the second requirement is self-government of individual institutions in respect to setting objectives, standards, admissions, selection of staff, curricula, personnel policies, and all the things that go to make up the operation of the college.
It was this report that signaled the beginning of community colleges in British Columbia. In essence, this report was the first step that led to the realization of Malaspina College. There was a real need; there was now a method of meeting the need. To get from idea to reality required action.
The government was quick to respond to the suggestions made in the MacDonald Report. Simon Fraser University was built on Burnaby Mountain and Victoria College, which was a junior college of UBC, was made into a degree granting institution, becoming the University of Victoria. The first college in B.C. was created in 1965, when King Edward Center combined with the Vancouver Vocational School and the Vancouver School of Art to form Vancouver City College. The next came in 1966 with Selkirk College in Castlegar. In 1968 two more colleges were created in the lower mainland: Capilano College in North Vancouver and Okanagan College in Kelowna. In 1969 the College of New Caledonia became the fifth regional college in B.C.
Contrary to the suggestion of Knott thirty years earlier, these colleges were not to be junior colleges under the control of the universities. Instead, they would be community colleges. They would come into existence through local demand, not by government implementation. They would be funded both provincially and locally — 50/50. Local funding would ensure greater local interest and active participation. This would lead to colleges that would be community oriented and would reflect the needs of the surrounding areas. Community Colleges would belong to communities and provide post-secondary opportunities of various sorts for the citizens in those communities. No longer would students seeking post-secondary opportunities be required to move to Vancouver for study at UBC.
During this time, no colleges had been created to serve the citizens of Vancouver Island. However, there was a college in the making. It was a plan that had been brewing as far back as 1962, right around the time when the MacDonald Report came out. The planners involved even had a name picked out. The new community college would be called Malaspina College.