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Budget opinion: Cutting advanced education funding will stunt central Alberta growth

The Alberta budget expected to be tabled this week follows a year during which the province has weathered one blow after another – a collapse in energy prices, a pandemic, and an economic crisis that has impacted our families, neighbours and friends.

The choices that need to be made are difficult and the decisions will have significant impacts on Red Deer and central Alberta communities for many years.

Now more than ever, decision-makers must search for creative, long-term and sustainable solutions and not settle for short-term decisions that may result in unintended and long-term consequences.

One of the decisions is the level of funding for post-secondary education. In the midst of several long-term and costly reviews and with widespread uncertainty in the post-secondary sector and the Alberta economy at large, now is the time for the Alberta government to make an investment in advanced education and set the direction for a robust and positive future. Now is not the time for further cuts to post-secondary that could negatively impact the recovery in central Alberta or, more worrying, make our economic recovery worse.

Red Deer College has been a respected post-secondary institution for close to 60 years. In the early 1960’s central Albertans recognized the need for and the importance of post-secondary education. Education, business and civic leaders came together and advocated to the government of the day.

These visionary leaders recognized the importance of post-secondary education as a road towards a more prosperous future for individuals and communities. As a result of this vision and many years of advocacy, Red Deer College was established in 1963 with 120 students enrolled in three programs – arts, science and education.

Today advanced education continues to provide a path forward that allows many central Albertans to contribute to their families and their communities. RDC offers certificates, diplomas, degrees, apprenticeship and continuing education programs to over 20,000 students each year including over 2,000 who move to Red Deer from across the country and around the world. Tens of thousands of students have attended and graduated from the more than 100 programs currently offered at RDC. Many of the teachers, accountants, welders, social workers, nurses, small business owners, electricians, doctors, therapists, and office administrators who live in our communities started, continued or completed their post-secondary education at RDC. Without these post-secondary educational opportunities, central Albertans are not able to fully participate in the opportunities available to many other Albertans.

In addition to providing post-secondary education access, RDC has a significant economic impact on our region. It is estimated that Red Deer College contributes more than $540 million to our region each year – about four per cent of the regions’ total gross regional product. The ongoing impact of RDC is also significant, supporting 6,800 jobs – or one out of every 19 jobs in the region. Every dollar invested in the college by Alberta taxpayers is estimated to return $5.40 in taxes and public sector savings and $12 in added provincial revenue and social savings. Every dollar invested by students returns $5.60 in their lifetime earnings.

Central Alberta needs the UCP government to invest in RDC – to maintain access to advanced education and to provide economic stability to our economy.

Many of our families, neighbours, and friends have been impacted by the events of the past couple years. Many people are anxious but they continue to hold out hope for a brighter future. Many of us know the reality of being out of work and the stress this creates for our families.

We want to be part of the solution. We want to be leaders in the relaunch of the central Alberta economy. We want to be there when someone decides to build, change, or upgrade their career. But we won’t be there if the Kenney government continues to defund the post-secondary sector.

We know money is scarce, but reducing funding to post-secondary education threatens jobs, the central Alberta economy, and the future of Alberta.

Talk to your MLA. Let them know that post-secondary education is important to you, your children, your grandchildren and the people in your community. Encourage them to see that an investment in post-secondary education is an investment in you and an investment in Alberta. Now is not the time to increase the threat to our future.

This piece was written by Jane Proudlove who is the president of the Faculty Association for Red Deer College, along with her colleagues at FARDC and members at CUPE Local 1445 (Red Deer College), AUPE Local 71 Chapter 14 (Red Deer College) and Red Deer College Students’ Association.

Red Deer College

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