RDC, students preparing for possible lifting of tuition freeze

Alberta post-secondary students are bracing for a possible lifting of the current tuition freeze when the provincial budget is handed down on Oct. 24.

The MacKinnon Report on Alberta’s Finances released in August put forth 26 recommendations on how the government can achieve a sustainable financial situation and long-term results for Albertans at a “reasonable cost to taxpayers.”

One of three recommendations from the focusing on advanced education calls for the government to work with post-secondary stakeholders to achieve a revenue mix comparable to that in B.C. and Ontario. This would include less reliance on government grants, more funding from tuition and alternative revenue sources, and more entrepreneurial approaches to how programs are financed and delivered.

Brittany Lausen, president of the Students’ Association of Red Deer College (SARDC), says students never wanted a tuition freeze in the first place as they tend to lead to dramatic spikes in tuition once they are lifted.

“Students have always wanted just a predictable rate at which tuition will increase,” says Lausen. “That has been outlined with Bill 19 to increase at the rate of CPI (Consumer Price Index). So that was always kind of what students have wanted, is a predictable way, so that they’re able to plan for the future and afford post-secondary.”

If the budget reveals funding cuts for Alberta’s post-secondary institutions, including RDC, Lausen hopes to work with the college to ensure as little impact on students as possible.

“Because we’re on the university journey, we’re definitely looking at expanding programs and offerings, and we know that definitely our local MLAs are in a huge support of that,” adds Lausen. “So we’re very optimistic and that’s why studentss associations are essential, we’re able and willing to have important conversations and work with the government and institutions on things like this to ensure that students are taken care of and that the university transition continues for Red Deer College.”

If the tuition freeze is lifted as anticipated, RDC President Dr. Peter Nunoda says they would look at a potential one-time, “right-sizing” of tuitions once they know what’s actually in the provincial budget.

Nunoda admits, though, that tuitions will likely need to increase for new students starting their post-secondary studies next fall.

“I truly believe that there are ways that we can continue to ensure access to post-secondary education for students from lower income situations through bursaries and fellowships and scholarships. So I don’t believe there will be any reduction in access to post-secondary and it will provide us more realistic costing in terms of tuition, as to what it actually means to provide those programs.”

With lean times expected over the coming years, RDC President Dr. Peter Nunoda says it’s imperative to find new ways of generating greater external revenues.

“One of the areas where we will be getting some work is international education for September of next year, with a hope that the international tuition will help to support some of the gaps that we may encounter in the budget,” he explains. “We’re also looking at entrepreneurial activities in our Continuing Education division. So we’ll be taking steps to mitigate any potential rollbacks on our core funding.”

Otherwise, Nunoda says he anticipates the status quo for the rest of this fiscal year in terms of provincial funding.

“I think it’s the out years, so starting for the next fiscal and for the next three years, (that) could potentially see some cutbacks, but I don’t want to speculate until we actually see what the budget looks like,” he explains. “But I know that the province is determined to balance their budget within the next three years, so I would imagine that their planning process will roll out accordingly.”