COLLEGES GETTING BOOSTS FOR BUILDINGS
Last week in Alberta, the Advanced Education Minister, David Hancock, announced (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200509/18718296B07A9-8204-47BD-B93AA830D972E6A2.html) that the provincial government would be investing 29 million dollars into Red Deer College to expand its facilities for trades training. At about the same time, another 8 million dollars were announced (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200509/1872230A2F113-9938-4A1A-84716D6D89D86B7F.html) to go to Lakeland College for various building projects, with 5 million alone being used to expand the campus by 3500 square meters–with an additional 2 million having to be provided by the community.
Going by that calculation, we can see that the cost of expanding for Lakeland college is nearly $2,000 per square meter. By that measure, my study space should qualify for infrastructure funding of about $3,000 dollars, or, in essence, a free full-course load for the year.
So maybe it’s time for us to start asking the government, where is our infrastructure funding? When AU adds students it does so with almost zero building costs. If the Alberta Government is such a big fan of cost-effectiveness, that 37 million dollars just donated would be much better spent at Athabasca University.
Coincidentally, that amount would entirely pay for the total tuition provided by students, both graduate and undergraduate, to AU last year, with a little bit left over. That’s 35,000 students that could have had free education last year. How many years do you think it will be before the expanded facilities at Red Deer and Lakeland manage to process 35,000 students [Editors note: AU has by far the largest student body of any University or college in Alberta – more than 12,000 more than the University of Alberta]? And that’s with both the students and the government having to pay additional funding every year as they normally do.
Free education can be a reality. We just need the governmental will behind it.
ALBERTA COLLEGES STILL NEEDING LOANS
Also last week, the Alberta government approved (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200509/18714CA031A3B-86C9-471B-A7AAD4ACF1FC5E5A.html) a loan request of the Board of Governors of Grant Macewan College for nearly six million dollars. I’m not sure I understand how, when amounts of nearly five times that are being given to Red Deer College, the provinces newest degree provider has to go beg for money. Sometimes I wonder if the current government simply feels a degree is not as useful as a trade skill.
Unfortunately, Statistics Canada has shown (http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/021001/d021001a.htm) that the number one method that entrepreneurs fund their business is from personal savings and credit. They have also shown (http://ogov.newswire.ca/ontario/GPOE/2005/09/08/c7421.html?lmatch=&lang=_e.html) that the people who are most likely to have significant personal savings and credit, due to higher earnings, are degree holders. Put these two simple facts together and you understand that the chance of somebody being able to start their own business has a direct correlation to whether they have a degree or not.
So what do starting your own businesses have to do with trade skills? Typically, those who start businesses are those who hire people with trade skills. In other words, supporting the development of trade skills without supporting similar increases in the number of degrees is in many ways putting the cart before the horse.
However, perhaps there is hope. Since the government is still engaged in its “A Learning Alberta” project, the amounts going for trades might be just the first drops in what will become a sufficient flow of funding for degree education.
ONTARIO ON THE BANDWAGON
Just in case you think Alberta is the only province doing this kind of thing, Ontario also has just announced (http://ogov.newswire.ca/ontario/GPOE/2005/09/08/c7421.html?lmatch=&lang=_e.html) some significant funding increases. Like Alberta however, these increases are not going to provide Ontarians with an education; they’re just going to build better and larger buildings for those students who can already afford their education.
Like Alberta, this funding comes from money set aside for capital project funding. In Ontario’s case, that amount is 250 million dollars. If it seems like I’m in a rut with these things, it’s because the government is making that rut deeper every time they go ahead with projects like these. Do improvements and renovations for physical universities need to be done? Absolutely. Do they need more buildings to expand the campuses? Perhaps ten years ago they did, before distance education was a viable reality.
Today though, we have accreditation in two of the most highly advanced countries in the world. The argument that distance education is substandard no longer exists. The argument that centralized campuses are needed to foster the sharing and promotion of new knowledge went out when the internet came in. What ties us to this expensive model of centralized campuses having to have the physical room to house students is simply government short-sightedness.