The Montreal Gazette, January 15, 2003
LaSalle College receives high marks for its academe and its colourful happenings
By Warren Perley
Jacques Marchand, general manager of LaSalle College, knows a good party when he sees one. There he was, this winter day, in the mezzanine lobby of his college, tapping his toes to a disco beat and kibitzing with fashion marketing students decked out in pancake makeup and cat costumes, replete with tails.
This is no stuffy administrator. Marchand prides himself on being accessible to the 2,500 full-time students who attend LaSalle, the largest private bilingual technical college in Canada. He can be seen strolling the hallways daily, exchanging pleasantries with students such as those participating in the one-day fashion show put on recently in conjunction with a local apparel manufacturer.
This kind of "joie de vivre" environment is part of the ambience a visitor notes immediately upon entering the hallway of the massive 350,000-square-foot building occupied mostly by the college at 2000 Ste. Catherine St. W., near Fort.
The polyglot jumble is remarkable - students from approximately 50 different countries attend classes at LaSalle. Besides its campuses in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, LaSalle started opening campuses in foreign countries 14 years ago under the banner of LaSalle College International soon after the arrival of new management and the incorporation of LaSalle College Group.
At present, there are 21 foreign campuses in places such as Morocco, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Jakarta, Manila, Tunisia, Bogota and Istanbul. Two new LaSalle affiliates are scheduled to open in China in September 2003.
The Montreal campus remains the international headquarters of this worldwide network, as well as the major source of its revenue. Its roots run deep in the local community, starting in 1959 as a business college founded in LaSalle by entrepreneur Jean-Paul Morin. Its only offering at the time was a one-year secretarial program.
Within a few years, the campus had moved to Drummond St. near de Maisonneuve Blvd. and had expanded the course to include three-year programs in office technology, fashion, hotel and food service management, tourism and international management.
The founder, who wanted to implement this new mix, was referred in the fall of 1979 to Marchand, then a 29-year-old consultant in management training at the Université de Montréal's business faculty, known as the École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC).
He invited Marchand to a job interview, but the man who within a few years would become general manager and a driving expansionary force almost didn't make it to his first meeting.
Marchand, by his own admission, is a "big space" kind of guy - "space" as in lots of elbow room, not the Star Trek variety. This was a boy who had spent his early childhood in the Saguenay region surrounded by blueberry bushes as far as the eye can see. When his family moved to Verchères on the South Shore in 1955, it was the vast, flat farmlands that caught his fancy. When they moved to a Laval bungalow in 1957, he fell in love with the "big fields."
He felt ill at ease in the concrete jungle of a city. The reason he had enrolled at HEC for his MBA was because he loved Mount Royal, the incline that the Université de Montréal is built on.
So there he was on that cool October day in 1979, standing in front of the old LaSalle College campus at 2014 Drummond St., debating with himself whether he should wend his way to the third floor of the decrepit-looking building for his interview. Something of a claustrophobe, he stood in front of the main entrance, undecided for 20 minutes.
"I finally decided to go in," he recalled with a laugh during a recent interview. "But I found the elevator was too small, so I took the stairs. They weren't much better; they were real narrow."World vision will work
When he arrived at Morin's office, what he heard from the founding president concerning his vision convinced Marchand that he would accept the job offer as director of pedagogical services.
Within a short time after starting, Marchand had organized the mix of programs offered so that by 1985, helped by a good team of people and favourable government regulations, enrolment of full-time students had increased to 2,400 from 1,000. Marchand added night courses, attracting 600 more adult students who held down jobs during the day.
When the founder retired in 1987, a new management team was put together under the leadership of an ex-petroleum executive, Jacques A. Lefebvre, who left as executive vice-president of the Quebec government's Société Genérale de Financement to head LaSalle. Marchand kept his role as director-general of LaSalle College and became vice-president of LaSalle College Group, becoming Lefebvre's partner.
Marchand remembers his first meetings with Lefebvre as a turning point for the organization. "He was bringing a worldwide vision and an expertise in terms of management and development that opened doors to create a totally new era for the name LaSalle and its branding in Canada and abroad in the field of education, as well as in business-to-business projects."
To offset the falling birthrate at home, they launched LaSalle College International, which, with the help of the Canadian International Development Agency, set up campuses abroad. In Quebec, they lobbied the Quebec government to receive the same educational recognition as public CEGEPs as well as subsidies, which allow Canadian-born students to pay a lower tuition than foreign pupils.
As of 2003, LaSalle College Group institutions offer complete diploma programs in the following fields:
- Fashion - design, marketing and production;
- Hotel management, food service and tourism;
- Business administration - commercial management, accounting and management, transportation logistics;
- Computer science - programming analysis, data management and network management;
- Digital imagery - print media advertising, interactive CD-ROM, new media and Web-site design, 2D and 3D animation, video editing, commercial and digital photo, video-game conception;
- Design - interior, display and set;
- Beauty - aesthetic care, electrolysis, hairdressing and artistic makeup;
- Languages - English or French as a second language with TOEFL, TOEIC and TFI test preparation;
- Online training with their Web portal (www.ilasallecampus.com);
- Industry training and software for garment manufacturers.
Of their 4,000 full-time students in Montreal, 50 per cent are adults and 50 per cent are teenagers. About 90 per cent are Canadian and 10 per cent are foreigners. Canadians studying at LaSalle College are subsidized by the Quebec education ministry and pay about $3,000 annually.
The courses taught at the Montreal campus are split about 50/50 between the English and French languages. At LaSalle campuses located in Asia, most of the courses are taught in English. At North African campuses it is mostly French, while the language of instruction is Spanish at LaSalle campuses in South America.
LaSalle offers all its graduates a lifetime job-placement service free of charge through its own agency.Students love teachers
When asked why they have chosen LaSalle over public-sector CEGEPs, students who were interviewed replied that it is a combination of the calibre of teachers, modern equipment base and the small class sizes - a maximum of 40 students per class in general courses and between 25 and 30 in specialized courses.
Ali Serkan Türkkan of Istanbul, Turkey, is a 22-year-old who is in the third and final year of a hotel management program.
"The quality of the teachers at LaSalle is very good," he said. "Most of them have worked for many years in their industries and now they're teaching us what they learned."LaSalle has excellent connections within the industries whose courses they teach, resulting in apprenticeship programs and high job placement rates. As well, their diplomas are highly regarded by many universities, which offer graduate courses in the same fields. Some, like Guelph University, have reciprocal agreements with LaSalle.
For example, after he graduates from LaSalle, Türkkan is considering registering at Guelph to get a bachelor's and later a master's degree in hotel management because Guelph gives full recognition to credits earned at LaSalle.
Türkkan says that when he returns to Turkey to pursue a career, he will have a major advantage over Turks who studied in his field in his native country because of the international exposure and fluent English-language skills he obtained at LaSalle.
Kammondo Seko, a 27-year-old first-year computer programming/analyst student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, says LaSalle College enjoys an "international stature" on the African continent.
"It attracts a lot of foreign students because of the reputation of its professors," he said in an interview. "Everything is well organized and clean. The equipment is new. The classrooms are air-conditioned and heated properly with good lighting. We never have to worry about security and the ambience is great."
Mania Safania, 23, moved to Montreal with her family from Syria two years ago and is now a landed immigrant. She is in the third and final year of her tourism DEC.
"I chose LaSalle because it is a private school that offers smaller class sizes and more personal instruction," she said. "I've learned in two years here what it would have taken me 15 years to learn in Syria. The teachers are great. They all know us by name and talk with us individually. They even help us put together our resumés and to organize internships."
Her biggest disappoint, she said, is the thought of leaving LaSalle after she graduates. "I don't want to go," she said. "I feel very sad at the thought of leaving. I love coming here. I spend my whole day here."
Unlike some universities and CEGEPs where there are tensions among students of different ethnic backgrounds, all three students who were interviewed said that there is no political or ethnic antagonism on campus at LaSalle.
Diane Marcil, who teaches fashion design - sketching, illustration, research and concept - appreciates the warm ambience and close relationship between teachers and their students at LaSalle.
"It gives me energy to be around young designers," Marcil, a 14-year LaSalle veteran, said in an interview. "I'm a teacher, but I'm learning at the same time. You have to keep up to date on new materials and on computer software. You have to adapt to the needs of the fashion industry.
"Our students are serious and motivated. The courses sound glamorous, but after one or two semesters the students find out just how much work there is to do."
The three-year fashion program entails design, marketing and production. It is among the biggest fashion schools in the world.
Jacques Lefebvre, the president of LaSalle College Group, is also the founder of the Montreal Fashion Foundation (Fondation de la mode de Montréal) which has donated more than $1.25 million to 75 college and university-level graduates over the last 13 years for apprenticeships in industry or post-graduate study programs abroad.
"These funds allow local fashion students to perfect their studies abroad and to then raise the level of expertise in Montreal," Marchand says proudly. "We, at LaSalle, want to do our share to make Montreal an international capital of fashion."
Marcil says about 85 per cent of the fashion graduates at LaSalle find jobs in their field, many starting as assistant designers or pattern-makers before moving up.
Students who graduate from LaSalle's three-year fashion program can continue and obtain a bachelor degree in fashion design at École Supérieure de Mode, which is part of LaSalle College in affiliation with the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Marcil says teaching allows her the time to keep her hand in the industry as a freelance designer of children's clothes.
"At LaSalle, we're all contract teachers, meaning we keep our hand in industry. That keeps us knowledgeable and on our toes."
Jacques Marchand knows a thing or two about staying on his toes. "We know we have to be efficient and profitable," he says, to generate the level of revenues needed to keep his school on the cutting edge in terms of the quality of its teachers, equipment and upkeep.
Falling birthrates in Canada mean that LaSalle has to promote its message internationally in order to attract students both to its Canadian campuses and to its foreign ones. It has a full-time public relations and advertising agency called Maxxum, which puts together the slick presentation materials used worldwide to explain the advantages of attending LaSalle.
For example, its LaSalle College International booklet explains to foreign students the advantages of studying at its Montreal campus, playing, de facto, the role of goodwill ambassador on behalf of the city and province.
There is help available through the college's databank for foreign students who need reasonably-priced housing. Social and sporting activities are organized to help integrate foreign students with their Canadian colleagues. The college will even send a representative to the airport to meet new arrivals and to drive them to their accommodations.
"We do more than just give college courses," Marchand said. "We've learned to diversify. We have to look for students outside Canada who want to study here. At the same time, we want to export our expertise to other countries through our branches abroad."
In line with efforts to spread its reputation abroad, LaSalle started online long-distance educational courses last year.
Apart from its teaching mandate, Marchand says LaSalle is proud to promote Montreal around the world as a centre of educational excellence and a peaceful haven from the urban violence which afflicts so many large cities.
"We are a career college, but part of our mandate is to educate our students to develop roots in the community and to support good causes," he said.
Among other fundraisers, LaSalle gets involved in the Easter Seal campaign and solicits on behalf of Ste. Justine Hospital. It organizes an annual fashion show to raise funds for the Farah Foundation for AIDS research. In fact, each department in the college chooses the charities it wishes to help.
In addition to the social causes it espouses and its stimulating learning environment, Marchand summarizes the advantages of studying at LaSalle as follows:
- A unique educational and social support structure for students;
- An internationally recognized diploma;
- A network of contacts across Canada and throughout the world;
- A teaching approach based on the integration of new technologies and international feedback from its network;
- Partnerships with industry and university leaders.
"Show me any public CEGEP where a student can phone the main number and get the GM on the line," Marchand said. "Here you can. I am sensitive to the fact that students are our clients. I am at their service."
Is it any wonder that student Mania Safania has tears in her eyes at the thought of leaving LaSalle when she graduates next spring?
Warren Perley, a former career journalist, is president of Ponctuation Grafix, a marketing and graphic design studio (www.ponctuation.com).