By Mike Baker
With many post-secondary students across the province struggling to adapt to new learning protocols brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government is stepping in to provide additional funding for programs that will assist those experiencing mental and emotional fatigue.
A funding announcement back on Feb. 26 revealed that Fleming College, which has a campus here in Haliburton and others in Lindsay, Peterborough and Cobourg, would receive $336,826. That money will be used to enhance a variety of mental health initiatives and supports at the school.
“This year has been exceptionally challenging for everyone, but certainly for our students,” said Laurie Scott, MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, during the announcement. “The pandemic has placed pressure on students’ mental health. That’s why our government is providing these additional funds… to strengthen community partnerships, increase the number of mental health workers in programs and, most importantly, to increase access to these much-needed services.”
In total, the Ontario government is putting up $26.25 million this year to increase mental health supports for post-secondary students.
Scott said she has heard dozens of firsthand stories from young constituents expressing just how challenging the past 12 months have been and the toll the pandemic, and all the changes it has brought, has had on their mental health.
Maureen Adamson, president of Fleming College, said this money would go an awful long way towards ensuring students are supported appropriately.
“One of our key strategic directions is to be an inclusive and diverse place for all, and what’s really special about this funding is it will go directly towards students, and more specifically supporting students in their everyday life,” Adamson said. “This has been an unprecedented year of anxiety. With the amount of students looking for support, our counselling services have been taxed. I cannot tell you how profound and important and timely this funding is for us, and for our students… It will help us tailor some of our mental health supports that are needed for our more diverse student population, and that’s so important.”
Much of those supports will likely be delivered in a virtual format or setting, at least for the time being, Adamson said. She expects they will continue to be popular, informing those tuned into the webinar that, during a recent National College Health Assessment survey, around 69 per cent of the institution’s students had experienced anxiety over the past year. Further to that, about 52 per cent of respondents said they had some sense of depression, up from 46 per cent pre-COVID-19.
Adamson is presently working alongside her administrative team to develop a plan that she hopes will see students return full-time to the classroom this fall.
Just how many students will return, however, remains a question. Adamson admitted student retention has been “affected adversely” throughout the pandemic.
“That’s another reason why this funding is so important – it will be going towards addressing retention for those students that are leaving because of anxiety or mental health concerns,” Adamson said. “This money is going to have, I think, a profound positive impact on the retention of students.”
In 2019, before the onset of the pandemic, it was estimated that Fleming College had around 6,200 full-time students and 10,000 part-time students spread amongst its four campuses.
As confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to dwindle province-wide, and with general public vaccinations “hopefully” soon to begin, local MPP Scott says that, for the first time in a while, she finally sees some light at the end of the tunnel.
“We know that this last year has been a challenge. We always say that we see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I am truly hopeful, with these new supports, that we can aid our students in creating a learning environment that helps them succeed both in education and in life,” Scott said. “The last mile of the marathon, as they say, is always the toughest. The sun is shining today, and I hope that’s a symbol that we are, as spring comes and vaccines roll out, going to return to normal life sometime in the near future.