Northland's economic development agency is warning against plans by the region's polytech to scrap degree courses in art and sports.
Northtec said it has to restructure because student numbers have dropped and it is potentially more than $4 million in the red.
The chief executive of Northland Inc, David Wilson, said he felt sorry for Northtec as it struggled with a funding crisis.
"Northtec has to be responsible to its shareholders, the public, and they have to be responsible financially," he said.
"You're dealing with a region that's three times the geographic size of Auckland with one-tenth of the population and they're having to reach right across the region.
"They've done a stellar job, but it costs."
Mr Wilson said he would hate to see Northtec ditch its degree courses in visual arts, sport and recreation.
"Both of those sectors are extremely important to not just the regional but the national economy.
"More people visit art galleries and museums in this country than go to all sporting events combined," he said.
Bu Northland also had a strong sport and recreation culture tied into tourism, Mr Wilson said.
Both sectors had the potential to create new businesses for people with the right skills and qualifications, he said.
Marcia Aperahama, 38, who is two years into a Sport and Recreation degree at Northtec, said that was the reason she enrolled.
The single parent of a three-year-old moved to Whangarei to study because she could no longer afford to live in Auckland.
Her dream was to start her own health and fitness business tailored for Māori.
The announcement last week that Northec was proposing to cancel the course blind-sided students and tutors alike, she said.
"I went home that evening, collected my son and just bawled my eyes out.
"I moved up from Tamaki with the aim of creating a better life for us. I need this course," she said.
Ms Aperahama said the Northtec managers who came to deliver the bad news didn't seem to know where the sport and rec students actually worked.
The course is based at Sport Northland's Kensington Stadium where students and tutors run a high performance fitness lab.
They also gain practical experience in schools coaching pupils and teachers in fitness strategies.
"The managers told us they didn't want students burdening themselves with debt only to end up in low-paid work that was not meaningful," Ms Aperahama said.
But she said the government's policy on free tertiary education would ease the debt problem and many qualified people started on low pay before moving up the ladder.
"We told them our course produced lots of successful graduates, and they said we should come up with the data to prove it.
"I don't think it's fair or ethical that we are having to complete that research for people that are paid to do it. This decision has been made on incomplete research," she said.
Northec's chief executive Mark Ewen said the course change proposals were not cast in stone, and it might be possible to keep some going until students completed their qualification.
Mark Wilson and Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai have asked to meet the Northtec management this week, to discuss the course cuts.