Low enrollment ends digital design program

Digital art has been designed out of TRU’s program offerings – for now

Lorelle Kjarsgaard is a 2014 graduate of the program who had good things to say about DAAD professor David DiFrancesco. (Jessica Messerer-Trosin/The Omega)

Lorelle Kjarsgaard is a 2014 graduate of the program who had good things to say about DAAD professor David DiFrancesco. (Jessica Messerer-Trosin/The Omega)

After 29 years, the university has stopped offering the Digital Art and Design (DAAD) diploma program beginning this fall.

“Two years ago there was se­vere decline in applications and enrolments for first year students. That’s what triggered us to rethink this,” said Tom Dickinson, TRU’s dean of science and interim pro­vost and vice-president academic.

Troy Welch, an instructor in the program since the 1995-96 school year, had similar information. Too few students were applying and enrolling in the program for it to make economic sense to continue, he said.

The last cohort only had seven students, Welch said. “It’s hard to argue that the resources are being well used with numbers like those.”

A full first-year class would have consisted of 36 students.

Dickinson said that with the decrease in applications and en­rolments and a faculty member retiring, it was the right time to rethink what was to happen to the program, as the cost was high and efforts to increase the number of students were not working.

“Upon further investigation, it turned out there is a lot of com­petition in B.C., with places like Emily Carr University and private institutions,” Dickinson said.

While the program is not ac­tually officially closed, students can no longer graduate with a diploma in digital design. Rath­er, some classes have been moved over to the faculty of Journalism, Communications and New Media, along with former DAAD instruc­tor, Colleen Foucault.

“Especially classes like digital photography will be a valuable tool,” Dickinson said.

Welch, who will be taking on a position with Open Learning next year, noted low application num­bers all across the university’s pro­grams, but also attributed the low enrollment numbers in the DAAD program to the fact that the pro­gram needed to be revamped.

The program started with broadcast graphics, moved into desktop publishing and then web design. Now, Welch said, the pro­gram would have needed to be completely redesigned, but that it was not important enough for the university.

“I don’t know if the develop­ment of a new program in that area is an institutional priority, but there’s certainly a huge market for it,” he said.

Kevin Murray, a 2014 graduate of the program, agreed that the program was becoming outdated. In an email he wrote, “We did pay for an education, we paid for those classes, but we shouldn’t have been left to fend for ourselves when it came to learning something as big as web design,” speaking about one particular class he felt lacked fo­cus.

He also wrote that he wonders “about the value of a diploma in a program that the school discarded not even a year later.”

Curtis Bateson graduated from the DAAD program in 2012. He had a similar opinion.

“It’s kind of disappointing that the school is shutting down the program and now all of our di­plomas are all from a non-existent program, but in our field it’s not about what you did, it’s about what you can do.”

Dickinson says the program is “not actually closed,” but rather undergoing change.

“We need to re-evaluate and see what the job market needs for 2020,” he said. “We want to target specific niches that are more rele­vant to the jobs that exist in design in this day and age.”

While the university looks to the future to see what students need, those who have graduated are looking back.

David DiFrancesco, a professor who has been with the program from its beginning, is retiring. Past students named him as the high­light of their time in the program. Lorelle Kjarsgaard, a 2013 grad, called him the “pillar” of the pro­gram and said he was a huge in­spiration.

“I learned to really not sacrifice my own personality and identity to get a job. Just to really stay true to what I want to do and to work really hard,” she said.

Bateson said, “The thing that made the DAAD program unique was learning from David DiFran­cesco… he pushed me to do my best, always letting me know when he knew I could do better.”

Murray wrote that even after 25 years of teaching, DiFrancesco was “still very passionate not only about teaching, but also about design. He still did design work outside of class, which meant that he was keeping his thumb on the pulse of what was happening in the world.”

Last year, first-year intake was suspended, so the program only consisted of second year students, most of whom are now graduated, Welch said. Some students have a few classes left to finish, which they can complete this coming year.

Dickinson said the program is still in the books and can be re­opened eventually.

“It’s a work in progress, but I’m sure it will come back with a focus on digital design and web design.”