Then & Now: Okanagan College continues to expand

The B.C. Vocational School opened its doors on KLO Road in 1963, offering eight programs with a tiny staff of instructors.

Construction for the third floor of the new trades building on the Kelowna OC campus

In 1961, B.C.’s then-premier W.A.C. Bennett announced that a vocational school would  be established in Kelowna to serve the interior of the province.

Two years later, the B.C. Vocational School opened its doors on KLO Road, offering eight programs with a tiny staff of instructors.

Were he alive today, Bennett would be hard-pressed to recognize the institution that has grown from those beginnings.

Site of Okanagan College

The B.C. Vocational School eventually merged with Okanagan College and the rest is history—sometimes dramatic, but underpinned by growth and expansion.

Through mergers, growth and change, Okanagan College has emerged from those early days as a much larger, more integral part of the regional community.

The Kelowna campus on the site of the original vocational school has grown significantly, including a major $33-million expansion and renovation of the trades complex well beyond the half-way point. It will be complete in early 2016.

Today there are far more international students taking an array of academic, developmental and vocational programs on the Kelowna campus today than there were students in the first year of the vocational school.

Eight programs have become more than 130 at all the campuses and centres Okanagan College can now boast (14 in total, including four in Kelowna beyond the campus on KLO Road).

And the impact of the college has grown too. When it opened its doors, the economic impact of the BC Vocational School was estimated at $6,000 a month for the region.

Today, the impact of Okanagan College in the region is estimated at close to $500 million annually—more than $57,000 per hour. (The annual impact of the 1,100-employee college in the entire province is estimated at nearly $1 billion.)

But the most important impact is in the education that the college delivers.

Since 2005, when the region’s post-secondary environment experienced its last dramatic shift (with the transformation of Okanagan University College into UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College), the college has issued 22,934 degrees, diplomas and certificates.

That’s a lot of lives transformed. From the first secretarial programs offered at the BC Vocational School, the college has grown to become one of Canada’s better known undergraduate business administration schools, drawing transfer students from across the country to complete their Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Kelowna. The trades have expanded remarkably, covering those basics that were first offered in 1963 to now include everything from RV service technician to domestic gas fitter and aircraft maintenance engineer.

The college provides opportunities for adult basic education and upgrading and provides career-focused certificate programs that include everything from horticulture to wine sales, from medical device reprocessing to mobile coding for Android and IOS operating systems.

And while the array of options and choices for post-secondary education has grown in B.C.’s Interior since 1963, the majority—and a growing number—of high school graduates going on to post-secondary in B.C. today choose Okanagan College.