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$5M deficit forces Sault College to halt programs, freeze hiring

'This year is very different': As expected, the federal government's cap on international student enrolment has wreaked havoc on revenue at Sault College

The Sault College board of governors on Wednesday approved a 2024-25 operating budget for the post-secondary institution that contains a projected $5.7 million deficit.

Revenues are projected to be $125.9 million but overall expenses are projected to be $131.6 million. 

Colleges in Ontario are required to present a balanced budget.

“We will overcome this deficit and we will balance our budget as difficult as it may be,” David Orazietti, Sault College president, told reporters after Wednesday night's board meeting.  

Sault College administrators are already working on ways to present a plan to the board outlining how the budget can be balanced by the end of the 2024-25 fiscal year on March 31, 2025.

That plan will be presented to the board at its July 4 meeting. 

The college began Wednesday by suspending three programs — Office Administration, E-Learning Design and Development and Supply Chain Management — effective this fall. Staff in those programs have been assigned work in other program areas.

“We’ll be taking a look at more programs although the vast majority of programs that are offered at the college will remain intact,” Orazietti said.

A hiring freeze was also implemented by the college Wednesday, although exceptions will be made for hirings deemed to be necessary.

“We’ve asked our department managers and directors to review the staffing in their departments,” Orazietti said. "We will be looking at staffing as a last resort. We will do everything we can to mitigate any potential impacts to staff."

Sault College salaries, wages and benefits amount to $54 million.

College administrators will be seeking to cut non-salary costs through limiting travel and cutting back spending on supplies and equipment such as staff cell phones and laptops in various departments.

“All of these factors add up to a potential savings in our budget moving forward,” Orazietti said.

“We will do a very thorough internal review of our departments and their operations and I expect that through the process that we’re currently working on that we will have prepared for the board on July 4 a plan to bring the budget back to balance by the end of fiscal on March 31st, 2025,” Orazietti said.

The college has been significantly impacted by the federal government’s decision to put a cap on international student admissions, the province’s ending of study permits for international students at private colleges and a continued freeze on tuition fees.

Most of the college's revenue - $71.5 million - comes from tuition fees paid by international students. Provincial grants to the college amount to represent 26 per cent, or $32.5 million. Domestic students bring in 5 per cent or $6.3 million of the college's revenue.

Since 2020, Sault College has had a public-private partnership agreement in place with TriOS College in Brampton which includes many international students in addition to those who attend the Sault College campus on Northern Avenue. 

The province announced in March that priority will go to public colleges and universities — including Sault College — for all available international student study permits while private career colleges such as TriOS College will receive none.

Earlier this year it was announced that the revenue provided to Sault College through its public-private partnership with TriOS College is equivalent to approximately $40 million.

The last international student enrolment intake at TriOS was in May, those students to graduate by 2026.

The allocation for international students for Sault College’s main campus on Northern Avenue is 1,293, a 63 per cent reduction from 2023.

All of that leaves a huge dent in the college’s revenues.

“This was not the situation that our college was in in recent past fiscal years," Orazietti said. "This year is very different because of decisions made by both the federal and provincial government in relation to international study permits and public private partnership colleges. We had expressed concern based on the January decision by Minister Miller that this would mean significant revenue impact to our budget. It’s now been quantified."

Orazietti said he continues to lobby the federal and provincial governments over the college’s financial challenges.

He said Sault College will be chasing its share of financial support for the postsecondary sector announced by the province in February.

“We have yet to confirm with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities how much money may be allocated to Sault College for this fiscal year which would have the potential to reduce our deficit. We expect a decision on those allocations within the next couple of weeks.”


Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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