Eduvation Blog

Participation on the Prairies

Ken Steele visits Assiniboine Community College, in Brandon Manitoba, to talk with president Mark Frison about their beautiful new North Hill Campus, encouraging enrolment in a region with the lowest PSE participation rate in the country, serving Indigenous populations, aligning programs with provincial immigration policy, and growing international enrolment 1500%!

ACC’s North Hill Campus is taking shape on the pastoral grounds of the former Brandon Mental Health Centre, and is already home to the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts, the Len Evans Centre for Trades & Technology, and sustainable greenhouses. Over the next few decades, ACC will preserve historic buildings, construct new academic and athletic facilities, and perhaps even build student residences.  It will make ACC unique among Canadian colleges.

Many of the innovations in marketing, programs and services at ACC have been driven by the recognition that much of rural Manitoba is underserved by higher ed institutions, and the province has the lowest PSE participation rate in the country.  The province is highly centralized, with 85% of public spending on PSE concentrated in the city of Winnipeg.  ACC’s 2013 plan set an ambitious target to double the number of graduates by 2025.

Another key constituency ACC serves are Indigenous peoples, and bridging the “prosperity gap” may be the biggest public policy challenge in Manitoba.  About 15-22% of the students ACC enrols are Indigenous, and in a typical year the College runs programs on or near 20 First Nations communities.

The largest single change at ACC is the growth of international student enrolment: from 37 in 2013 to more than 500 in 2018!  Early on, extremely low vacancy rates in Brandon meant that most international students wound up attending ACC’s small Winnipeg campus – but thankfully that has eased, and eventually campus residences may be the best solution. ACC’s international strategy is highly tied to provincial targets for immigration, and labour market needs – in fact, the need for immigration drives the strategy, not the desire for international tuition revenue (although moving to 5x domestic tuition has helped to make the programs sustainable). ACC also takes an integrated view of international enrolment, education of newcomers to Canada, and international development work.

Mark emphasizes that colleges and universities need to be “unapologetic” about doing all that they can to foster economic development, and coordinate their efforts at internationalization with their regional government’s immigration strategies.


Mark Frison was appointed President of Assiniboine Community College in August 2010, after serving 5 years as president of Great Plains College and Cypress Hills College in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.  He holds a Masters of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University, and undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Business from Cape Breton University (UCCB at the time).  He has served as Executive Director of the Association of Saskatchewan Regional Colleges, and on the board of Colleges & Institutes Canada.

Next week, Mark Frison shares several ways campus leaders can inspire their people to take ownership and take initiative.  So you don’t miss it, be sure to subscribe!

Special thanks to Shaun Cameron for coordinating the onsite recording at ACC. If you would like to host an onsite episode of Ten with Ken, please see more information.


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