Following a 30% funding cut from Trent University this year, the university’s Community Based Education (CBE) program has cut student projects and staff and is looking for new funding sources. The program is considering new fundraising strategies, including asking students for a levy, charging course fees, and offering a new consulting service to organizations for a fee.
Trent students have been conducting CBE projects—which match students with underfunded community organizations to help them conduct research—since 1989. The program is operated by the Trent Centre for Community Based Education (TCCBE), which facilitates Peterborough area projects, and the U-Links Centre for Community Based Education, which facilitates research in Halliburton county. A Community Based Education (CBE) research project at Trent either counts as an independent course credit or is part of the work for a regular course.
Last year, TCCBE and U-Links worked with 14 academic departments ranging from Forensic Science to Indigenous Studies, and 55 community organizations.
Almost three times fewer students will conduct research in the Peterborough area through TCCBE this year than did last. Last academic year, 123 students completed a project. This year the Centre anticipates that number will be only 44.
“We’re saying no to students, which is really difficult,” Todd Barr, TCCBE executive director told Arthur. Students can no longer complete research projects for a half course credit (only full credit) and there are currently 34 proposed projects that will go unmatched partly because of reduced staff capacity. TCCBE has had to let one project coordinator go and remaining staff have had to reduce their hours.
The program is considering all of its options for raising more funds. Barr said a student levy campaign will only happen if students involved with the program decide to lead it. As for program fees, he speculated that were one to be charged, it could be around $100 per project.
Another fundraising option being considered would see community organizations pay TCCBE staff to conduct similar research to what students currently do for free. This might mean fewer project opportunities for students.
TCCBE has had some trouble diversifying its funding sources in the past. Barr said that funding for community organizations usually targets front line service delivery, such as shelters and meal programs. For instance, when TCCBE applied recently to become a United Way member agency, its application was declined because of the Centre’s focus on research instead of service delivery.
“We were denied not because they think we aren’t doing good work. They think we’re doing amazing work in the community,” Barr said. “But they only fund downstream service delivery. And what we are is an upstream service provider. We are helping build the capacity of frontline service providers and government agencies to do their work by helping do research and evaluation.”
The City of Peterborough also declined to grant funding to TCCBE recently because of its close ties to the university and research focus.
CBE is sometimes hard to sell to the academic community, as well. “In the university community generally, across Canada, sometimes this work is considered maybe a little bit outside the mainstream of what a university is supposed to do. Although that seems to be changing at some universities and colleges in Canada,” Barr stated. He added that community-based education programs are the “perfect marriage” of applied and academic pursuits.
Despite this, and the funding cut, which Barr called “really substantial,” he is confident that Trent is supportive of its community based education program. “I think there’s a lot of good will,” he stated.
“We’re on their radar at the administrative level and certainly in a number of departments people are valuing the partnership with us.” He also noted that university-community engagement, which is what the CBE program’s mandate is all about, was enshrined as one of the three pillars of Trent’s Integrated Plan, adopted last spring. (Barr has been in talks with University President Steven Franklin about a possible university-community engagement forum for some future date). Added to that, are some strong indications of support from students who have completed projects.
The majority of students participating last year responded to a follow-up survey about their experience with the program. 90% called their experience “extremely” or “very” worthwhile. The vast majority also said they would highlight their experience on a resume and recommend the program to others.
Sue Collis, a fourth year Canadian Studies student, completed a CBE project last year which documented efforts to revitalize Indigenous languages.
“The CBE program challenges students to ground their academic pursuits in ways that are meaningful to the wider community,” Collis told Arthur. “Many CBE placements are with organizations and community groups that could not otherwise afford or free-up staff to do the research conducted by students. As such, CBE operates as a tangible bridge between the University and the public. I think it’s a program that Trent should be proud of and promote.”
Barr was clear that the CBE program is not being singled out for cuts. “In many ways we’re doing our part,” he said, noting that all academic departments faced funding cuts this academic year.
U-Links could not be reached by press time.