College Beat: Education impacts quality of life

With apologies to political scientists everywhere, and in my opinion, the role of government at any level can be categorized into two general themes: safety and quality of life. In other words, how can government keep its citizens safe, and how can it improve the quality of their lives?

How governments create policies and laws to accomplish both is generally a function of ideology. Low taxes, tough on crime, less government involvement on one end of the political spectrum, and higher taxes, more services and more government involvement on the other.

I readily acknowledge this oversimplification of political ideology, but I use it to illustrate the following point: no matter what the ideology, all governments recognize the value of education as the single most important influence on the quality of life of its citizens.

I bring this up because some very disturbing statistics were brought to my attention by Red Deer College’s executive director of Strategic Planning and Analysis after his review of the Campus Alberta Planning Resource document, an annual publication by the Ministry of Advanced Education.

In summary, our region has the lowest participation rates in post-secondary education in Alberta – half that of Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton. And if that is not bad enough, more than twice as many students leave our region to attend post-secondary than the aforementioned communities. And we all know that most do not return to the communities of central Alberta when they finish.

One final statistic – 56 per cent of post-secondary enrolment in Alberta is in degree programs and 80 per cent of that enrolment is in four-year bachelor programs.

RDC does not have the authority to offer our own degrees. I am proud of our faculty and staff who deliver more than 100 programs of study, including: one-year certificates, two-year diplomas, apprenticeship, and trades and technology. But without our own degrees, the future of RDC is impaired.

Asking to become a Polytechnic University is our way of contributing to a bright future for our region. By offering all we do now, plus our own degrees, we will ensure, over time, that more learners have more access to the programs that will prepare them for successful careers and lives.

There are many needs in our region – and all are important – but if you ask me, the one need that, if met, will have the greatest long-term impact on the economic, cultural, and social growth of our region is for RDC to become degree-granting.

An answer is promised for later this year.

Joel Ward is President and CEO of Red Deer College

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