Yukon College’s School of Visual Art in Dawson City has only four registered students this year. (Leighann Chalykoff/Yukon News)

Declining enrolment could put Dawson City’s School of Visual Arts at risk

Yukon SOVA only has four full-time students registered for fall

Declining registration at The Yukon School of Visual Arts in Dawson City means the program may not run this September.

Only four full-time students have registered for the program, which allows students to complete the first year of an arts degree.

Officials have set a new enrolment deadline of August 1 before they’ll decide if there are enough students to make the program viable this year.

“That’s the decision that’s going to have to be made next week once we’ve passed that deadline,” said Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. “We are very mindful of the fact that we want the students to have the best possible experience. I would frankly say that four is probably low.”

SOVA’s enrolment numbers have been declining for years. In 2007 19 full-time students enrolled. By 2016 that number had dropped to seven.

The program also allows part-time students, who are usually Dawson locals. Yukon College records show anywhere from two to eight part-time students are enrolled each year.

Six part-time students are qualified to study at SOVA this year, the records show. McPhee didn’t know how many of those students are actually registered.

There’s no magic minimum number of students that SOVA needs in order to run, she said.

“If the program at SOVA is suspended, and I’m stressing if, it will be based on the fact that the enrolment numbers are not going to give the students the best experience.”

It may turn out that four full-time students plus part-time students would be enough, she said.

“We are definitely in the process of having those discussions.”

In 2016 the program ran with 11 students total, the lowest enrolment on record. In that case seven of the students were in school full-time.

Registering for Yukon College requires two separate steps. The first is to apply for admission, to confirm a student is eligible for the program. They can then officially register.

McPhee said SOVA received nine applications. Some are incomplete. If those applications are accepted, students could theoretically choose to register for classes.

Extending the registration deadline to August 1 gives those students more time.

The door is also open for students who haven’t applied for admission yet, McPhee said.

“So if somebody showed up today or tomorrow with an application, they would be put through the process.”

Regardless of whether the program is suspended or not, the government is in talks with the college and SOVA’s governing council about the possibility of doing a program review, McPhee said.

“Because as you can see from the numbers there’s been declining enrolment and we want SOVA 100 per cent to be successful.”

This is not the first time SOVA’s struggling enrolment has been in the news. Last year school officials pointed to Dawson’s tight housing market as one obstacle that may be keeping students away.

The school is funded primarily through the Department of Education. In 2016-17 its approximately $550,000 budget included about $22,000 in tuition fees.

The overall budget has not declined in recent years, the minister said. It’s not clear how much of that money goes towards marketing or recruitment of new SOVA students.

“That’s one of the questions we have, with respect to a program review,” McPhee said.

The program is currently without a program director. Curtis Collins resigned in June. So far no job posting has gone up looking for his replacement.

McPhee said the position will be filled if the program is not suspended. For now administrative staff at the school have been taking on Collins’s former responsibilities, she said.

It would have been part of the director’s job to recruit students to SOVA, visiting schools inside and outside the territory.

The minister promised the struggling program will not be leaving Dawson.

“Absolutely not. SOVA lives and should live in Dawson City.… A part of the charm and the uniqueness of that program is that it can be offered at that location,” she said.

It’s not clear whether the students who have registered for SOVA are aware that their program could be at risk.

“I have expressed concern that those students should be aware of that but I’m not sure whether that was followed up with,” McPhee said.

The News tried for much of the week to get information on the state of SOVA when rumours began circulating that the program was in trouble.

Officials with the college originally seemed willing to at least provide data on the school’s enrolment. Past enrolment numbers were provided almost immediately in response to an access-to-information request.

That willingness evaporated when it came to providing this year’s numbers.

“We’re hopeful that SOVA will have a significant cohort of new students,” was all college spokesperson Michael Vernon would say on the topic.

Vernon also declined to directly answer questions about the school’s budget, viability, and future plans.

After the News complained, McPhee agreed to an interview.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com