Red Deer College won’t let a review of Alberta post-secondary institutions shake its resolve to become a university.
In March 2018, the provincial NDP government gave RDC approval to pursue becoming a university and develop full degrees.
Guy Pelletier, the college’s chairman of the board of governors, said RDC had expected the United Conservative government to give final approval this spring.
“(Government’s) preference is to avoid major decisions until something comes out of that review has taken place. Until we have final approval, there’s always a concern there might be a change in the system that impacts university status, but we wouldn’t anticipate that at this point,” Pelletier said.
Last month, Alberta Advanced Education announced it wanted to hire someone to assess how the post-secondary system is meeting current and future needs, review the governance structure, provide comparisons to other post-secondary systems and develop a vision for the future.
RDC president Peter Nunoda said he has received no indication from Alberta Advanced Education the transition isn’t “under consideration.”
The college plans to start by offering bachelor of education and bachelor of science in biological sciences degrees in September 2021. Bachelor of business administration and bachelor of arts degrees in psychology are to follow.
“We still very much anticipate the ability to offer degrees in September 2021, whether or not our university status is ultimately confirmed at that point,” Nunoda said.
Laurie Chandler, press secretary for Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, said the review job will be posted soon. The timeline and precise scope of the review will be determined once someone is hired, so she could not comment on whether the review will impact RDC’s university status.
When the review was announced, it was expected to be presented to government by the end of the year, with implementation in 2021.
Chandler said the process to become a university is well underway for the college.
“There has been no change. It’s definitely underway. It’s just going to take longer than the general public realizes. It takes a good five years. It’s a long process,” said Chandler, who added it took about that long for MacEwan University to tranform from its college roots.
The process includes developing a two-tiered governance structure and degree programs, and obtaining program approvals.
Pelletier said there’s been good support during the process from Nicolaides.
“Quite a bit of work has been done on the ground and with the ministry.”
The transition can be accomplished within the current budget, so it will not cost the province more money, he said.
“We’ve run into some challenges, like all public sector institutions over the last number of months with some budget challenges, but we’ll work through those, and our focus will not come off the university status,” Pelletier said.
He said the institution will continue to offer trades programs, and the upgrading of diplomas and certificates. The intent is to add applied degrees that direct graduates quickly into the workforce, as opposed to master or research-type degrees.
“It’s a model we’re pretty excited about,” Pelletier said.
Dan Lower, principal at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, said he knows of a few students graduating this year who want to delay their post-secondary studies a year so they can get their bachelor degrees in Red Deer.
“It’s a great opportunity. Just allowing our students to stay in the community, and to learn here, and get experience here, I think is what our kids are looking forward to the most,” Lower said.
Lower said living in another community to go to university is costly. Students also hope tuition in Red Deer, as a smaller university, will be cheaper.
Mayor Tara Veer said university status, and its expanded program options, will position Red Deer well for labour force development, maintaining the population, but also attract more people to the city.
“It is probably one of the most strategic economic development initiatives that we can undertake, or secure, for our community,” Veer said.