Province limits post-secondary funding

Alberta’s post-secondary institutions have been warned the days of six per cent increases in provincial funding are over.

Alberta’s post-secondary institutions have been warned the days of six per cent increases in provincial funding are over.

For the past five years, post secondaries have received about a six per cent operating budget increase, including for 2009-10. But now Alberta Advanced Education and Technology projects a freeze on funding for 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Rachel Bouska, department spokesperson, said it’s just tough times and everyone is having to cut back, including post secondary schools.

“We don’t know how long this recession is going to last. We don’t know when things are going to turn around. There’s just no time line so we roll with it and do the best we can with what we have,” Bouska said on Monday.

“We have faith in our post-secondary institutions that they will take the correct measures in order to balance their budgets and always keep access and affordability to students in mind.”

Ron Woodward, president of Red Deer College, said the possibility of a freeze does not come as a shock.

“I was getting people ready that we might get zero for the current year. We were very, very pleased the government chose to give us six per cent this year,” Woodward said.

Six per cent added between $2.5 and $3 million in revenue to the college’s $85 million budget.

Institutions learned last week that zero per cent is a possibility so the college is still developing a plan to cut costs.

Revenue from student services like residence, the book store, or continuing education fees is only about $1 million so increasing fees won’t help much. Likely, costs could be cut by not expanding programs or introduced new programs, he said.

“At this point we do not see having a strategy of eliminating jobs or reducing staff to deal with the zero per cent increase. I can’t guarantee that won’t happen, but that’s not part of our thinking at the moment.”

The challenge will be in meeting the needs of students with enrolment expected to increase, Woodward said.

“More students can be both good and bad for us from a financial perspective. In many areas we can’t put any more into a classroom or in a lab and so we have to set up a whole new class and that costs us.

“But we’re also absolutely committed to doing our very best to serve every student who wants to come to the college.”

Jordan Cleland, vice-president of advancement at Olds College, said the college tightened its belt last year and eliminated about 20 positions after government advised it was looking at a three per cent increase for 2010-11.

About nine people lost their jobs, and the rest of the cuts were done by not filling vacancies.

More adjustments will still be needed to meet a zero per cent increase, possibly by putting the college’s plans to provide more programming in smaller communities “on the backburner” and not expanding beyond Red Deer and Mountainview counties for now, he said.

“Alberta post-secondary institutions weathered 20 per cent real cuts back in the mid 90s and this isn’t on that level, but it is the most austere environment we’ve been in a decade,” Cleland said.

Olds College has a $42 million operating budget and gets 57 per cent of its funding from the province and 15 per cent from tuition and fees.

A provincial cap on tuition fees prevents tuition increases higher than the Alberta Consumer Price Index.

“Investing in education is one of the smartest thing government can do. Even though times are tough, it’s important that we continue to educate people because educated people is what the future is all about,” Woodward said.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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