Perched in the hills above Squamish, Quest University is turning the page to the next chapter of its existence.
Having been at the new position for one year, new president Peter Englert now has a handle on what needs doing and is setting changes in motion.
Quest is an intriguing part of Squamish: one step removed from town, the private, not-for-profit institution provides an atypical post-secondary education. The school is renowned for its academic excellence and student engagement—consistently ranking highly in the National Survey of Student Engagement—but the financial situation is not yet ship-shape.
As Englert brings the institution through the end of its first ten years of operation, straightening out the finances is at the top of his priorities.
An Unconventional Approach
Quest differs from other Canadian universities. Students can attain only one degree—a bachelor of arts and science. But within this program, they are granted a good deal of agency over their education. Student-driven learning is an important part of the Quest ethos. Their last two years of studies are focused.
Student-driven learning is an important part of the Quest ethos. Their last two years of studies are focused around a question of their choice—which they answer using an interdisciplinary approach.
Quest also runs on the block system, so students only take one course at a time and commit to it with their full attention for 3.5 weeks. Class sizes are small
Class sizes are small at 20 students, and the cost is high, approaching $50,000 a year for tuition, room and board.
The first class of 73 students commenced in 2007 and the school has since grown to reach the limit of physical space available with its current facilities. This fall, 650 students are back to campus, greeted by a host of changes.
“Ten years isn’t a very long time to be on the ground. Having established academic excellence, we are now in the process of securing that by creating fiscal and financial excellence. When we have achieved that, we have set the basis for our perpetuity.”
Englert took the reins in August of 2015.
“I had to get my lay of the land in the Canadian high education system,” says Englert, who previously worked at universities in Hawaii, California and New Zealand, as well as being on a team for the 2001 Mars Odyssey.
Englert was recruited to become Quest’s president after the departure of David Helfand, the previous president.
A few of the changes this fall are the arrival of new faculty, new members of the management team, a raise in tuition and some differing aspects of community engagement.
On the Financial Front
Because the school is private, the cost of tuition is more similar to what international students pay at other Canadian Universities. For many students, Quest offsets these costs with merit-need based scholarships.
“Fiscal and financial excellence. It’s a hard thing to do, we need to look at our operations,” says Englert. “I’m raising our nominal tuition very little.”
Other efforts to tighten the finances include expansion of fundraising and restructuring the continuing education. Previously, continuing education was open to the public, subjects ranging from beekeeping to wine tasting, and astrophysics.
“I wanted to make sure that all of the endeavours we do are cost-neutral or bringing a profit or benefit to the university. Neither the writer’s conference nor continuing education brought one.”
Englert says these programs will be restarted once they’ve been restructured accordingly.
Growth on Many Fronts
“From the physical point of view and the facilities point of view, 650 students are what we can sort of, barely accommodate in our academic building. The question now is, going to 700 or 800, can we have a similar second academic building?” says Englert.
“Certainly, there’s always room for growth. Growth is not something that has only one or two dimensions.”
Academically speaking, Quest may offer more courses in Asian and Indigenous studies. Englert says that in his previous work in Hawaii and New Zealand, he saw how First Nations content could be brought into the teachings–something he is excited to pursue at Quest.
“The actual expansion is academic growth, the consequence is physical growth in numbers and there is also the effect that when we grow in numbers our fiscal stability and sustainability will improve. Size matters. Growth gives more stability. If we do that growth right, it is also contributing significantly to financial affluence.”
Having established itself as a centre of academic excellence, the next challenge for Quest is securing its financial situation.
Englert is putting his vision in motion for the longevity of the institution.