People who live in central and northwestern Alberta soon won’t have to move hundreds of kilometres away to pursue a university degree.
Premier Rachel Notley was on hand Thursday in Red Deer, where the college currently offers a number of degrees in partnership with other universities — but students often have to move to other cities in order to complete their programs.
“We want to make it easier for young Albertans to get a great education,” Notley said. “The decision to allow Red Deer College and Grande Prairie Regional College to develop and grant undergraduate degrees is a historic move. Not only will it put these colleges on an exciting new course, it will help make life better for people in central and northwestern Alberta.”
Red Deer College board chair (and former Red Deer mayor), Morris Flewwelling, said Thursday’s milestone is as big as when the college first opened 54 years ago.
“Allowing Red Deer College to grant degrees autonomously and to move towards university status is the right decision, and one that we have been looking forward to for many years,” Flewwelling said to a packed house at the RDC Arts Centre.
“Learners are the reason our institution was founded and they continue to be at the heart of the decisions we make today. Learning is foundational to the growth and prosperity of this province.”
The transition from college to polytechnic university could take between three and five years to complete, RDC president and CEO Joel Ward said.
The college will continue to work with the Campus Alberta Quality Council during that time to ensure all new degree programs meet provincial and national standards.
“Transitioning Red Deer College towards degree completion plays an important role in our city and the region’s future growth,” said Ward, who noted this is the third time RDC had asked the province for degree-granting status over the last 25 years.
“Achieving university status is the realization of a 54-year dream for our institution.”
RDC Students’ Association president Kass Scholze emphasized the enormous impact the decision will have for learners, who will no longer have to choose between Calgary, Edmonton or beyond when picking where to pursue a university education.
“This change means students will no longer be forced to uproot their lives to complete their education. It will allow access to degrees right here at home within the next few years,” said Scholze, who herself is in the first year of her Bachelor of Education and will have to transfer in order to finish.
“Students will be able to complete their degree on a campus and in a community invested in their success and future graduates will be a vital part of central Alberta.”
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer congratulated the college for its monumental achievement, saying the transition will play an important role in the city and region’s growth.
“RDC’s leadership and staff are to be commended for their unyielding efforts over many years to meet the goal of offering degrees as part of their commitment to comprehensive, local access to post-secondary programming,” she said.
Thursday’s announcement does not mean RDC will stop offering the apprenticeship and trade programs it does today. As for the school’s future moniker, Ward said that’s a decision that will have to wait for another day.
The announcement Thursday in Red Deer comes a week after the government gave Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) approval to pursue becoming a university.
Currently, GPRC offers a number of apprenticeship, academic upgrading and career-ready programs, but students who wish to pursue a degree currently have to move away from the community and the college said many do not return.
GPRC said it will remain a comprehensive community institution that honours trades, diplomas and certificates, but will now also embark on a new journey meeting the demand of the region’s learners.
“When the college offers degrees more students will be able to continue and complete their education in Grande Prairie, without needing to move away from their homes,” said Blaine Badiuk, president of the Students’ Association of Grande Prairie Regional College.
“Keeping highly motivated students in Grande Prairie will have an enormous impact on the city’s future.”
— With files from Josh Hall, rdnewsNow