College numbers keep on climbing

While an improving economy has meant more jobs are out there, Central Alberta post-secondary institutions are still seeing enrolment increases this school year.

First year Red Deer College Early Learning and Childcare students Crystal Belozer

First year Red Deer College Early Learning and Childcare students Crystal Belozer

While an improving economy has meant more jobs are out there, Central Alberta post-secondary institutions are still seeing enrolment increases this school year.

With about 8,000 students, Red Deer College saw about a two per cent increase in its first-year student population, compared to a 10 per cent increase in 2009, when going back to school appealed to many unemployed people.

This month, the college has 3,337 first-year students. In 2009, there were 3,287.

“As the economy has turned around a little bit, and more people are finding jobs, they don’t come back for upgrading or retraining or re-skilling,” Red Deer College president Joel Ward said on Thursday.

But the college is still in demand, he said.

“We were worried about whether we’d be able to maintain that big increase that we got last year. We maintained it and we’re up a little bit.”

RDC generally trains about 3,000 apprentice students but this year the Alberta government reduced the program by 80 students.

“Because of the economy and the need for skilled trades is a lot less than it was two years ago, those numbers get adjusted because you can’t have an apprentice if you don’t have an employer to apprentice with.”

If the economy heats up, more apprenticeships for students will be added, Ward said.

Olds College has 670 first-year students, up from 615 in 2009, or an nine per cent increase. Total enrolment climbed to 1,137 students from 1,061, or seven per cent.

Jeff Suderman, director of recruitment, said Olds College is feeling the rebound in the energy sector.

Enrolment in the college’s land agent program, for securing land leases for oil and gas work, doubled from 23 students last year to 46. Interest in its two-year business administration diploma program also rose.

“Students will often choose education based on job demand. Job demands are there,” Suderman said.

Other popular programs are veterinarian medical receptionist, fashion marketing and turf grass management.

Interest in “passion programs” like animal-related courses people take because they love it, remains steady, he said.

Enrolment at Canadian University College in Lacombe jumped 20 per cent, to 493 this month from 409 in 2009.

First-year students at CUC, a Christian university program sponsored by Seventh-day Adventists, increased to 180 from 148.

Bryan Lee, CUC vice-president of marketing and enrolment, said more students are deciding to get a university education even if they go into the oilfield because young workers know when the economy falters they are the first to lose their jobs.

Since the recession, more Canadian students are also choosing CUC rather than paying more to go to U.S. Seventh-day Adventist schools or leaving Central Alberta for big universities, he said.

People are realizing that “right here in Central Alberta there is a university. This is a viable option,” said Lee about the university, which is not restricted to Seventh-day Adventists.

Last year, six out of CUC’s seven pre-med students were accepted to medical school.

“That’s huge. The national average is more like 17 per cent.”

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com