Investing in success
When it came to developing a university here – an idea first championed by Packet & Times editor C.H. Hale in 1928 – there were many ups and downs, disappointments, starts, stops and stumbles. Many people, in fact, had given up and thought it would be a dream never realized.
It’s only important to point that out because, after 10 steady, strong years since first opening its doors to students in 2010, Lakehead University is sort of taken for granted these days. It’s as if the vaunted post-secondary institution has always been here.
The reality is that without unparalleled support from the City of Orillia and the County of Simcoe, there would be no university campus in our city. The municipality was absolutely critical in taking the long-held hopes of stalwart university supporters such as Sue Mulcahy and making them heard at Queen’s Park. The city moved heaven and earth, literally, to pave the way for Lakehead to open its satellite campus in downtown Orillia and donated 85 acres of land in west Orillia where the institution has planted roots it hopes will bear fruit for years to come.
The County of Simcoe has also been instrumental in its support of Lakehead, a university that gives this region and its young people a huge advantage. This week, we were reminded of that partnership when the county presented Lakehead a cheque for $1 million, part of its $10-million commitment to the university.
Orillia campus principal Kim Fedderson paid tribute to the vital partners at the cheque presentation. “This is a community that’s wanted to have a university for over 50 years and has realized … that they were going to have to step up to the plate ... And they’ve done that,” Fedderson said. “I really think it is unprecedented, a city and a county coming up and investing in a university to make that university possible.”
It’s been a fruitful investment. Over the past 10 years, more than 2,700 degrees have been awarded at Lakehead’s Orillia campus. Of those currently enrolled at Lakehead, 45% are from Simcoe County and the economic impact of the school to the county has increased 10-fold to $47 million annually.
Like the city, the county took a calculated – and expensive – gamble on Lakehead before a single student had a chance to enroll. But as county warden Gerry Marshall said this week, nobody sees it as a gamble any longer. He believes the county should continue to support the school long after its current 10-year commitment ends.
“When we started this in 2009, (we were) investing because we believed in this and we (thought) it may get our students to a better spot and a better place,” said Marshall. “… I would say, based on the evidence so far, it’s a slam dunk for the next county council to come in and say ‘we’re in for another 10 years.’”
Lakehead has ambitious plans for its Orillia campus. It will need continued support from the city and the county to realize those goals. It’s heartening to see both remain firmly behind the school and its success.