I've often been asked what's changed at University College of the North as we endured the pandemic's disruption and what I "miss most."
To be honest, what I missed most was the graduation ceremonies, our institution's ultimate celebration of achievement. As president, I have the best seat in the house. And, as the graduates cross the stage and I hand them their degrees, diplomas or certificates, I look at each one and offer congratulations. But I always look to the audience, to the people who gather to celebrate their graduate's achievement. And the look of sheer joy, pride, and love on the faces of the parents, spouses, children, and other family and friends is very emotional and somewhat overwhelming.
As one of UCN's Governing Council's chairs said when he experienced this feeling for the first time: "this is what it's all about."
This brings me to the most important statistic, one of the key measures that "UCN is all about."
UCN, like all publicly funded institutions, is accountable and must report on enrolments, retention, graduation rates, financial performance and a plethora of other statistical measures. But, we do not quantify the most important statistic: most graduates are the first in their family to gain a post-secondary credential.
To me, this is the most important statistic because study after study has shown that children whose parents attended post-secondary are much more likely to attend post-secondary (and graduate) themselves.
Study after study has also shown that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to be employed with a direct correlation between income and education levels, i.e. more equals more. And education levels are also directly correlated with social determinants of health.
That one individual, that first family member to graduate, that one who models achievement-oriented behaviour and who is an inspiration and a role model, is transformational for generations to come.
UCN occupies a unique position in the post-secondary landscape. We have a unique mandate — offering both university and college programming. We operate in a regional context, providing service throughout the vast area of Northern Manitoba, where the population is predominantly indigenous. Though we are a small segment of the provincial system, our impact now and to future generations is huge.
Our last graduations were held in person. I got to see those proud, smiling faces once again. And whether the graduates realize it or not, they are preparing the same stage for generations to follow.
The 2017 colleges review noted UCN "is vital to the needs of Northern Manitoba … strongly anchored and administrated from Northern Manitoba, and that responds to the needs of its communities and employers … Both college and university programs are crucial to the development of the North …"
Doug Lauvstad is the president and chancellor of University College of the North.