Lambton College likely to lose millions as international student visas capped

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The federal government’s plan to curb the big business of international student education will have a big impact on Lambton College.

Lambton College officials are still assessing what new federal rules for international students will mean. While the college’s Interim Senior Director of Community Engagement, Marilyn Mason, did not offer any details, it’s clear the college stands lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

Monday, the federal government announced a two-year cap on international student permits. Up to 800,000 people made their way to Canada in 2023 on student visas, the federal immigration minister said, causing concern about the quality of education and the impact the students were having on the tight housing market.

In 2024, 360,000 visas will be permitted across the country, the immigration minister said. Provinces will receive permits based on population. The number of student visas in Ontario will be cut in half. The provinces will determine how the permits will be distributed among colleges and universities.

Whatever is decided, Lambton College will see a dramatic drop in students and the revenue they bring. Statistics from the Ministry of Colleges show Lambton has the fifth highest number of international students in the province on its four campuses. Between Jan. 2022 and April 2023, there were 13,246 student visas approved for Lambton College students in Sarnia, and its campuses in Ottawa, Mississauga and Toronto. Lambton has partnerships with St. Paul University in Ottawa, and two private career colleges Queen’s and Cestar College in the GTA.

The college’s 2023 annual report says it plans to attract 4,524 international students and about 3,950 domestic students this school year, up 3.2 per cent over last year.

But with the federal announcement on international visas, those numbers are likely to plummet along with the revenue which comes with them.

International education and the licensing agreements with other private colleges which provide services to international students for Lambton, generates more than 52 per cent of the college’s annual revenue according to board reports and the 2023 audited financial statements.

International student fees can be nearly quadruple what domestic students at Lambton pay depending on the program of study.

For example, a Lambton County resident would pay just over $8,000 for a two-year course called Instrumentation & Control Engineering Technology – Industrial Automation. An international student would pay $32,674.58 tuition for that same program.

With over 4,500 international students at the Sarnia campus alone, that translates into huge money.
The college generated $76.76 million in revenue from international education – $31.5 million in 2023 up from $25 million in 2022 – and the licensing agreements it has with private career colleges which cater to international students. They generated $45.3 million in the fiscal year ending March 2023.

By comparison, the provincial government provides $22.5 million in basic operating grants to the college. Lambton receives about $12.5 million more through grants for specific courses – such as apprenticeship programs – and federal and provincial grants for research at the college.

With an operating budget of $130 million in that same time frame, Lambton was able to salt away about $16 million for the capital projects the college is planning, including a new residence building for international students. The building, announced in 2022, will house 300 to 350 students and will replace the current residence with 140 double rooms. It’s slated to open in three years.

Mason tells The Independent in an email; “Currently, we are consulting with provincial colleagues to understand the new federal policies and their impact more fully on the college and our students. We hope to provide more insights soon.”

Ontario colleges have been calling on the province, as recently as November to increase its investments in community colleges. The province cut tuition in 2019 and it has been frozen ever since.

Colleges Ontario wants the province to lift that freeze allowing colleges to increase tuition by five per cent in the next school year. It also wants the province to chip in more money for operating the college.

Ontario’s public colleges currently have the second-lowest tuition in Canada. The average Ontario public college tuition is around $2,700 per year for a full-time program.

The province also has the highest enrolment rate of international students leading to reliance on international student tuition to keep operations running, critics say.