RDC, students set to deal with provincial budget fallout

The provincial budged tabled Thursday by the UCP Government includes an operational funding cut of $1.2 million for Red Deer College this year.

There will be a reduction this fiscal year (2019-2020) of five per cent to the Campus Alberta Grant. Though reductions to each institution in the province vary, the reduction to RDC’s grant is said to be 2.4 per cent.

RDC president Dr. Peter Nunoda says the budget impacts come as no surprise.

“We knew some measures were going to be taken, and now we have a sense of what that direction is,” he said Friday. “It clearly creates challenges for the post-secondary sector, but I can say for Red Deer College that we’re prepared to meet those challenges.”

Nunoda says RDC will make the necessary in-year reductions to deal with those challenges.

“I would say on the positive side of the ledger, this only reinforces the notion that we have to seek-out more external revenue,” he explains. “We are going to become more active in the international education field, and so we have a target of 500 new, international students for September of 2020. So that’s in-part to address the gap that’s being created in our operational funding.”

Additionally, the Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP) will be suspended for one year and restored in Budget 2020 – impacting RDC to the tune of $2.1 million in its ability to do facility upgrades and routine maintenance.

“Upgrading classrooms and that sort of thing, and some of the repairs we may need to do may need to be put off,” Nunoda notes. “But we don’t have major capital projects cued-up at this point in time, so that’s really not an impact for us.”

All other grants at RDC, such as the Post-Secondary Mental Health, Students with Disabilities, and Health Workforce Action Plan, are generally maintained in the budget. The Apprenticeship Technical Training Grant also remains relatively unchanged.

The most direct impact to students is the lifting of the five-year freeze on tuition rates.

Over the next three years, increases will be permitted to a maximum average of seven per cent, per year. Any further increases in year four will be determined based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

“We will be looking carefully at our tuition structure,” admits Nunoda. “But I will say this, we’ve been in constant contact with our students’ association. We want to approach this with full transparency and get to a place I hope of mutual understanding about how costs have risen, and how we need to meet that, in addition to the cuts to our operational grant.”

Students’ Association president Brittany Lausen admits she and her peers are disappointed with the amount the tuition cap has been raised.

“However, we are grateful that the Minister heard the students in wanting predictability in tuition, like keeping a cap,” says Lausen, “but of course tuition is rising significantly more than initially set out by Bill 19.”

Lausen acknowledges that student supports and services are largely maintained with the new budget, but admits student will feel the pinch over the next few years.

“I definitely see potential in our student food bank perhaps getting busier. I could see as a way to manage the cuts, institutions increasing other auxiliary costs such as parking and residence rent, or if students have to stay another year working in order to afford post-secondary.”

College officials say the province’s vision for the post-secondary system is that institutions have less reliance on tax dollars, create other sources of revenue, be flexible to compete globally, have meaningful links with employers, foster greater transparency and accountability, and provide the most generous student assistance in the nation.

As a result, Nunoda says RDC will be looking closely over the course of the next month at how more savings can be achieved, and potentially where new revenue can be added.

“I’m very confident with the way that we have started down an entrepreneurial path,” he explains. “That we have opportunities that haven’t been explored previously and that we can potentially leverage to address the challenge.”

The good news is that Thursday’s budget does not affect RDC’s path towards becoming a university.

“We’ll be moving forward. We’ll try to ensure that education remains affordable, and that there is accessibility to our institution for as many of our regional students as want to attend here,” Nunoda says.