Colleges concerned about provincial budget cuts
Central Alberta post-secondary institutions are grappling with how they’ll handle the deepest cuts handed down in the provincial budget.
Red Deer College President Joel Ward said on Friday he’s disappointed with the Progressive Conservative government’s budget that reduced Advanced Education to $2 billion in base operating grants, a $147-million decrease from 2012-13.
Institutions learned the impact will be a 7.3 per cent decline across the board in base operating grants. The new budget for institutions begins on July 1. This will result in the loss of $2.09 million at Olds College. Red Deer College figures were unavailable on Friday.
Thomas Lukaszuk, deputy premier and Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, said operating grants have increased by more than 45 per cent over the past decade, but such funding increases aren’t sustainable year after year.
“This type of cut that goes so deep will have significant impact on our institution and we have tough decisions ahead on how we’ll be able to deliver programs and services to our students,” said Ward.
Ward said the cuts won’t mean institutions will introduce tuition fee increases, other than what is allowed through the government legislated tuition cap. It’s tied to the consumer price index, which is around 2.15 per cent this year, said Ward.
He said Red Deer College will have to find ways to generate more revenue. Ward questioned how these cuts fit in with a long-term strategy, particularly when the government is trying to address labour shortages.
Ward added these cuts won’t deter the college from its “bold, innovative vision” from expanding in the future.
“We will work hard to find ways to get (this planning) done — through P3 (private-public) partnerships, it’s all on the table.”
Students’ Association president Eric Peppinck, precently returned from the Alberta Students’ Executive Council conference. The mood was worrisome.
“Most of us were hoping, at the very least, a zero per cent increase, versus losing money in the next budget,” said Peppinck.
He hopes the impact at RDC will be minimal when it comes to shrinking or eliminating programs. He expects it will be ones that have already sunsetted or the college has been discussing cutting them for some time.
The government announced a $250,000 boost in funding for its scholarship program, plus a new grant for low-income students.
Peppinck said increasing money available for student loans by 21 per cent will not do anything to the debt that students are handling. It doesn’t stop the inflation, he added.
The province suspended the Student Temporary Employment Program. “Many businesses actually use that funding to bring in students and without that funding they might not be able to create those jobs,” added Peppinck.
Jordan Cleland, vice-president of advancement for Olds College, said the college budget is around $55 million, but just 58 per cent of that comes from the provincial government. He said the province had forecasted a two-per-cent increase, so this is actually a 9.3 per cent reduction.
He’s not overly surprised with Thursday’s announcement since Premier Alison Redford began warning about drastically lower oil revenues.
“We began preparing different scenarios so it’s something we think we’re well positioned to handle,” said Cleland. “We’re going to have to look at more ancillary revenue.”
Students will see some small positives from this budget through the increased scholarships and loans, he added.
“But the students want to make sure there’s good quality and affordability,” said Cleland. “We have to make sure we have a responsible blend of expenditure reduction, but continue to be creative on ancillary revenue.”