The start of the fall 2022 semester is just three weeks away for post-secondary students in Lethbridge at both the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College.
The two institutions are preparing for a return to on-campus learning with little in the way of COVID-19 measures after more than two years of restrictions, such as online learning and vaccination requirements.
According to Natasha Buis Deering, registrar and executive director of student enrollment management at the University of Lethbridge, the recent addition of more undergraduate and graduate programs has given the institution a boost.
“We have an exponential growth at the University of Lethbridge over the last ten years,” Buis Deering said.
“Our high watermark was just (above) nine thousands students. I anticipate that we’ll see just close to those numbers this year.”
However, the international student population took a bit of a hit recently due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Some students were learning from abroad in different time zones, while others were not able to attend at all.
But this year, Buis Deering anticipates a large return of students from other countries.
“We are seeing those study permits get approved, and students coming back to Canada now, and so we’re really confident in their experience when they get here.”
Those students include Kasume Nagawa and Ashley Watanabe, who are set to start an English class as part of an exchange program from Japan.
They’re both excited to make some new friends in Canada.
“It’s amazing, because in Japan we had online classes and half of the year we spent online classes, and after that we had classes in person, but we had to put masks on,” Nagawa said.
“We came to Canada and we don’t need masks and we can have in-person classes here and we can meet a lot of people.”
“We can have conversations with my friends in the class, and I think it’s really nice,” Watanabe added.
At Lethbridge College, registrar Marko Hilgersom explained their international student population is also looking positive.
“But there (are) external factors that always concern us, because we’re not in charge of flights, cancellations, travel restrictions, or student visas,” he said. “It’s not (until) the middle of September that we know those students are actually here.”
When it comes to overall enrollment, the college hasn’t seen a huge boom.
Hilgersom attributes that to a variety of factors, including trepidation from students following the pandemic, people choosing to get into the labour force instead of school, and high school students taking gap years.
“Enrollment is kind of flat. We’re not growing at the rate I was kind of hoping post-pandemic, (where we would) kind of just shoot right up,” Hilgersom admitted.
“We have some programs that are doing really well, general arts and science, the university transfer. Those numbers are improving.”
Neither the college or university have COVID-19 mask mandates or other set restrictions going into the fall semester.
Both are keeping an eye on public health measures through provincial authorities.
Lethbridge College is asking students to wear masks in the campus health centre, while the U of L has kept its disposable mask and hand sanitization stations across campus.
“We have not implemented mask mandate for the fall semester, however, masks are strongly encouraged. We are a very mask-friendly campus,” said Trushar Patel, an associate professor and member of the Return to Campus committee.
“We are continuously monitoring the situation, we are keeping an eye on cases in the community as well, we have continued to implement the enhanced air filtration system in all of our campuses.”
“As a community, we need to just remember if you’re not feeling well, kind of stay home,” Hilgersom added.
Both schools hosted in-person convocation ceremonies at the end of the previous spring term.