It’s not surprising to see 10 per cent growth in enrolment at Red Deer College. Nor is it a shock to learn that every classroom on campus is in use — essentially meaning that if the college were to grow any further, new buildings would have to come up, fast.
When government is looking to cut spending (and being accused of spending way too much), building anything fast is pretty well out of the question. At least with government funding, it is.
But the same economic case that people make on behalf of advanced education to the province applies to potential funders outside of government, too. While much has been said of the long-term benefits of higher education for Alberta in general, people often overlook the immediate economic impact an institution like Red Deer College has on our city.
So once every blue moon or so, it’s worth reminding ourselves why Red Deer is financially very fortunate to have a local enterprise like Red Deer College.
One of the foundation arguments made by Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath in their book The Rebel Sell is that it’s impossible to opt out of the global consumer culture, because whatever decisions a person makes, every cent that you earn eventually gets spent.
You can store your money under your mattress to avoid becoming part of the international banking system but someday, that money — all of it — finds its way back into the system.
You can give all your money to the poor to keep it from getting into the hands of rich industrialists, but as soon as the poor spend it, the money is on its way into other pockets. It’s unavoidable.
But you can turn that argument on its head, too. Every cent that industrialists (or governments) spend on something like a community college gets spent in the local community. And then some, because students themselves are a considerable buying group with resources of its own.
What happens to the money? Whatever isn’t taxed back by government from income, fees or GST, goes back to the industrialists. All of it.
Which, if you are a business owner, is a pretty good investment.
How much money are we talking about in Red Deer?
Let’s start with the students. This year, there are 7,800 students registered. Average tuition and fees and books for a full-time student comes to roughly $5,500. Add twice that figure again and you will get a ballpark of total per-student operating costs for 7,800 students: about $128 million. All of it spent here.
You can add another $5,000 per student per school year on average for living expenses (even students living at home have a cost, which every parent knows): $39 million. All of it spent locally. And we haven’t even begun to factor spending at fast food restaurants, movie houses, electronics stores and pubs.
It is not unreasonable to conservatively tote this up at something around $200 million in spending per year. All of it local.
We’ve seen fast growth at RDC and that’s been nothing but good news for Red Deer’s economy.
If we want to see that spending continue to grow, the college has to physically get larger. Government contributes a lot to that, but beyond investing our taxes into education, we need to think about investment from outside government, too. Or, we need to convince government that’s where we want more of our tax dollars spent.
If part of that $200 million in local spending supports your bottom line, it looks like a good investment.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.