Ag colleges face funding cuts

Olds College has decided to reduce overhead to absorb reductions, while Lakeland is shifting dollars to make up losses

The Alberta government is cutting funds to the province’s agriculture colleges, putting some in a challenging position.

In its recent budget, the United Conservative Party government outlined it will be reducing funds to Lakeland College by $2.5 million and Olds College by $663,000. The funds come through the campus-grant program.

In total, the province is cutting about $117.6 million to post-secondary schools, with the bulk of reductions coming from the University of Alberta (a $44.4 million cut) and the University of Calgary (a $32.8 million cut).

The province has argued the cuts are necessary to get its fiscal house in order. They generally based the reduction amounts on whether the schools produced a surplus.

In an emailed statement, Lakeland president and chief executive officer Alice Wainwright-Stewart said the school was able to turn a surplus in recent years, suggesting it will re-allocate dollars from the Strategic Investment Fund into general operating expenses.

However, Lakeland also faces a $2.1 million shortfall in funding for its Infrastructure Maintenance Program.

Wainwright-Stewart said the school will look at ways to address challenges brought on by the reduced infrastructure dollars.

“This budget situation is complex and will take some time to understand fully,” she said. “We will continue to work towards our mission: to inspire lifelong learning and leadership through experience, excellence and innovation.”

At Olds College, president Stuart Cullum said the cuts won’t have a significant impact on the school.

He said the college anticipated cuts. It streamlined administration costs, reducing overhead and staff to absorb the funding reductions.

“We are seeing additional programs be developed and we haven’t had to cut any programs,” Cullum said.

He explained the college reviews its programs periodically, choosing to add or eliminate ones based on the demands of industry.

As well, he said Olds will be looking at ways it can generate funding via alternative sources, like through private industry or the federal government. For example, it’s already managed to get roughly $5 million from corporations to develop its Smart Farm, he added.

Cullum said the college hasn’t yet explored whether it will raise tuition for students in the following years.

In the budget, the government removed a tuition freeze. It will allow post-secondaries to hike tuition by a maximum of seven percent per year.

In her statement, Wainwright-Stewart didn’t address how Lakeland will approach tuition or staffing levels, but said the school will work through the budget implications with great care for students, staff and the overall college.

She said once details in the province’s 2020 budget are released, Lakeland will have a better understanding on how it will affect its finances.

As for the University of Alberta’s agriculture department, president David Turpin wrote in the school’s blog that the cuts are significant.

“Meeting the challenge of this budget cut and changes anticipated for the following years will not be easy, and we will need to make tough decisions,” he said.

“We cannot, however, expect our students and their families to shoulder this burden alone.”

The University of Calgary, which has a veterinary medicine school, has said the university is entering a period of uncertainty and indicated there could potentially be layoffs.

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