Ward: Polytechnic university would strengthen region

Too many of our kids are leaving our region to complete their education in Calgary or Edmonton. The sad truth is that most do not return. Our communities are impoverished by a brain drain that inevitably impairs our region’s economic, cultural and social growth. In my eight years in Red Deer, I have heard stories from parents and students who wished for a choice to stay and finish at RDC.

The support for RDC to become degree-granting by becoming a polytechnic university is strong. Red Deer city council has made it a top advocacy priority and passed a unanimous motion of support.

Mayors and reeves in Central Alberta, school divisions, First Nations, and business and industry have provided letters of support for RDC to become a polytechnic university.

Red Deer College’s Board of Governors has made becoming a polytechnic university its number one priority. When I speak on this topic, I am always asked two questions: what is a polytechnic university, and why can’t RDC become one?

The answer to the first is easy – a polytechnic university builds on the success of RDC’s programming including trades apprenticeship and technical training, one and two-year certificates and diplomas, with the added benefit of offering our own degrees. Simply put, all we do now plus grant our own degrees.

The answer to the second question is more complicated. Although the current government is considering our request, there seems to be a reluctance to change the status quo.

And yet the government’s post-secondary strategy includes the principles of access and affordability, which are not available in Central Alberta to the degree they could be.

This leads to our kids leaving the region to complete their education or not going at all because of the increased costs of relocating. High school students in Central Alberta are less likely to go to post-secondary upon graduation than their counterparts in Calgary, Edmonton or Lethbridge. (Calgary and Edmonton 29 per cent, Lethbridge 27 per cent and Central Alberta 15 per cent). To bring our rates up, to increase access and affordability, RDC needs to become degree-granting.

Clearly, the economic outlook for Alberta is changing. To diversify our economy, opportunities for all Albertans begins with access to affordable, close to home post-secondary education. Innovation, creativity and advanced skills are needed to meet the demands of our future. Red Deer College is committed to providing as many opportunities as possible for the population of the central region of Alberta to be an active participant in this changing economic environment. RDC can and will do more by adding more relevant programs. In doing so, the intellectual, economic, cultural and social well-being of Central Alberta will be strengthened and enhanced.

To do so, RDC must achieve degree-granting by becoming a polytechnic university. Let your MLAs know that you support your college in this journey. Our kids deserve it.

On a personal note, I would like to thank Shelley Ralston, our Board Chair, for her six years of service to our college. I am sure you all have noticed the changes that have taken place at our college during her tenure. Her leadership, vision and passion for all things RDC will be missed. RDC is a better College because of her.

Joel Ward is President and CEO of Red Deer College.

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