RDC suspends disability support program

A drop in student demand for the disability and community studies program at Red Deer College has caused it to be suspended next school year.

A drop in student demand for the disability and community studies program at Red Deer College has caused it to be suspended next school year.

The program offers training to students who want to support people with a variety of disabilities.

It means that students going into their second year of the program will be able to finish their diplomas in 2009/2010, but no new students will be taken into the first year of the program in September. RDC will examine what kind of new program could be put in its place.

The number of students in the DACS program has declined substantially in recent years. In 2004/2005 the number of full-load equivalents in the program — made up of full-time and part-time students — was 74.5. In the 2008/2009 school year, there were 29.3 FLEs within the first and second year of the program.

Joanne Packham, dean of business and human services at RDC, said a decline in enrolment was noticed more than five years ago, the decline has continued and projections suggest it will continue into the future.

Packham said without student demand the program is no longer viable in its current format.

Packham said service agencies are probably experiencing a moderate to severe shortage of skilled staff in this field and the complexity of the clients being served is increasing, but the human services field offers comparatively lower wages combined with the cost of gaining a diploma.

She said there is also a lack of profile with the human services field and the working conditions can be challenging both physically and emotionally.

Although the decision was made to suspend the program, Packham said the college will explore offering a new program, with plans from now to the fall to consult with community members, agencies, key employers and government to see what other kind of program could be put in place.

Phil Stephan, CEO of Parkland Community Living and Supports Society, said the suspension of the program is disappointing, but not surprising. He said Red Deer College isn’t the first to have to stop offering a program like this due to dropping student enrolment and interest in the field.

Stephan said it will be a significant challenge for his organization and the rehabilitation field in Red Deer not to have access to RDC graduates from the disability and community studies program. He said the college is the single largest source of skilled rehabilitation practitioners.

Ed Riediger is chair of the provincial workforce council, which is under the umbrella of the Alberta Council of Disability Services, and has worked towards having a stable and professional workforce to support people with disabilities.

“It has proven to be a real challenge, primarily because while there are a great number of important skill sets required of the staff who work in this field, our wage scales have been such that they don’t tend to support a professional workforce,” he said. The average wage for someone in the human services industry is often between $13 to $15 an hour.

Riediger said they often hire people with no relevant background in human services and give them in-service training to get workers started on their education in the field. However, he said workers don’t often get paid much more even if they go on to the post-secondary program.

He said the real fix from the provincial government would be to make sure organizations would be able to pay professional wages for professional work and for the province to encourage colleges to continue to offer the disability and community studies training programs.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com

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