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Quest enrollment skyrockets

Squamish based liberal arts university attracting Canadian and international students



Its nickname is "the little university that could."

And despite getting its start in a flat economy and building slowly - almost to the point of confusion for Sea to Sky residents - Quest University has increased its enrollemt by over 50 per cent.

"For the last two years we had about a hundred in our first year class and we had targeted 130 this year and so we were intending for a significant increase but to get to 150 was a little bit of a surprise," said Quest University president and co-founder, Dr. David Helfand. "I think it helped that we graduated a class last April and that makes us look a little bit more like a real university."

Helfand said that the past five years have given the school the right amount of time needed to percolate through friends, families and guidance counsellors who point high school students towards various post-secondary options.

"Having seen the success of the children and their advisees coming through here, they're anxious to recommend that other students come here too," said Helfand.

Though Quest has a large international focus, 43 per cent of its students are from Canada and 35 per cent are from the U.S. Locally, the school is building its number of students from the Sea to Sky corridor.

Four new students from Squamish bring the total to 10 from that community and three students from Pemberton already attend. Of the three undergraduates attending from Whistler, first year student Kyle Kirkegaard said she decided to attend Quest after sitting in on a few classes last year.

"Just being able to meet the teachers and see how passionate they were with the students and how much support you have in the smaller class sizes was something I was really drawn to," said the avid soccer player, who attended high school in the U.S.

"And also because it was a liberal arts education offered in Canada. It gave me an option of gaining a liberal arts education that I could find more easily and readily in the States, but nice and close to home."

From B.C. overall, this year Quest will see 49 new students, making 139 in total. Helfand estimates about half of that total is from the Lower Mainland and surrounding regions.

Seventeen new students from Washington bring that state's total to 45, 12 new students from Oregon bring their tally up to 17 and 11 new students from Colorado bring their total up to 20.

"And we have three students from New York City, I'm proud to say," said Helfand, a long time New Yorker who also chair of the astronomy department at Columbia University. "Outside of North America we're up to 33 countries"

Five new students from China will join Quest this year, bringing that country's total to seven. The tiny country of Nepal will have three new students on campus for the first time. Other countries represented include Sweden, Bangladesh, Bolivia, France, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mali, Singapore, andVenezuela.

"It's just terrific. I'm teaching the cornerstone block, the first block that all students take, and I have 19 students and seven different nationalities represented," said Helfand.

"One of the things we do is on creation myths...and just seeing how a student from Thailand, and a student from China and a student from Germany all bring their perspectives to this and illustrating to the class to what degree these creation myths permeate our idea of the relationships between human and's terrific."

Eight new students from the academically elite and deliberately diverse United World Colleges will also join the fray.