Diversity on the Prairie: A College Cultural Mosaic: Lethbridge College in Alberta, Canada, Attracts a Diverse Student Body despite Its Location

By Edwards, Tracy | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, July 9, 2009 | Go to article overview

Diversity on the Prairie: A College Cultural Mosaic: Lethbridge College in Alberta, Canada, Attracts a Diverse Student Body despite Its Location


Edwards, Tracy, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Lethbridge is a small city of approximately 83,000 people located in Alberta, Canada, an hour's drive north of the Montana border. The landscape in this region is striking--a combination of fiat prairie grasses shouldered by "coulees," a magnificent collection of hills and ravines that are not only beautiful, but useful. Those who love the outdoors spend time hiking and enjoying the abundant wildlife and the amazing scenery. And, of course, the Canadian Rockies are only a short drive away.

Lethbridge is home to Lethbridge College, an institution that has been resident in the city for more than 50 years. Lethbridge was the first publicly funded college in Canada, originally based on the American junior college model. At present, the organization provides a comprehensive slate of programs--arts and sciences university transfer, certificates, diplomas (similar to associate degrees), apprenticeship and applied degrees. Although at this writing there are no offerings, Lethbridge College's mandate from the provincial government also includes baccalaureate degrees.

Another interesting feature about Lethbridge College is that this institution resides in traditional Blackfoot Territory--the college sits next to the largest land mass reserve (reservation) in Canada, home to the Blackfoot people. Chief Mountain, a flat-topped peak in Glacier National Park in Montana, can be seen for miles around. The legend goes that as long as you can see the Chief, you are standing on Blackfoot land.

Recognizing that Lethbridge College resides in "rurban" Alberta (not quite urban, but yet not rural) one might expect the institution to have a fairly homogenous student population; however, the diversity is absolutely striking.

Thirty percent of the students attending LC are not from Lethbridge; although the institution attracts students from across Canada, you might not expect to see such an international population. At the present time, the college has students registered from 66 different countries; on any given day, it is not unusual to hear multiple languages spoken as one navigates the campus.

The documented First Nations, Metis and Inuit (Native Canadians) compose approximately 9 percent of the LC population. It is anticipated that this number is low, as many of these students choose not to self-declare. The college is home to the Piita Pawanii Learning Centre, a gathering place for FNMI learners. In partnership with the Royal Bank of Canada, a transition program for Native Canadians provides special support to ensure these students succeed.

The blending of international and local cultures is very powerful. Each year Lethbridge College supports the FNMI Student Club for Native Awareness Week. The programming includes traditional arts and crafts, storytelling, opportunities for all students to sample traditional food and a group of colorful dancers. …

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