Has time come for a University of Red Deer?

School board and community representatives gathered in Red Deer on Thursday to consider strategies for pursuing a local university.

School board and community representatives gathered in Red Deer on Thursday to consider strategies for pursuing a local university.

Red Deer Public Schools superintendent Don Falk points out in his invitation that the city is the second largest urban centre in Canada and the largest in the West without its own university.

“Red Deer’s young people, it would appear, are disadvantaged when compared with their peers in communities of similar size across Canada,” he says in an email.

Falk says Red Deer College serves the community well, provides an excellent education and offers a number of university programs. “However, for many, the opportunities at RDC are limited to a partial program that must be completed elsewhere.”

Some post-secondary students have to leave the community to pursue their programs, boosting costs for them and their families. This comes at a time when the expense of post-secondary education already poses a barrier for many.

A university would also offer other local benefits, including cultural events, library services, adult learning opportunities, as well as providing a location for business enterprises.

The school division was saying little after about the lunch-hour gathering at its head office that drew about 16 Central Alberta school and community representatives.

“It was just very preliminary discussions and some sharing of information,” said Bruce Buruma, director of community relations, on Thursday. “That’s really all it was about at this point.”

Buruma initially said a statement would be released the following day. On Friday, Buruma said the division needs more time to officially comment.

Wild Rose School Division superintendent Larry Jacobs said the board sent a trustee to the meeting to get more information. There are many questions to be considered: what faculties would be offered, would there be graduate programs, where will staff come from, and how will funding be found?

The prospect of a university is a discussion worth having, he said.

“I see merit, and I think the board sees merit, in terms of having a university presence in Central Alberta. Well, maybe the time is due.

“We support it. We just don’t know an awful lot about it at this stage.”

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools superintendent Paulette Hanna said they were invited but no one was able to attend. “It just didn’t work out,” she said.

Red Deer College president Joel Ward could not be reached for comment.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com