Ward says 2018 could be 'Watershed Year' for RDC

By Sheldon Spackman
December 29, 2017 - 12:00pm

Exciting times at Red Deer College in 2017 are expected to continue in 2018.

That, according to RDC President Joel Ward who says among the highlights in 2017 was the launching of two new programs – the Human Resources Management Graduate Certificate and Instrumentation and Engineering Technology Diploma.

“That one is a two-year career-driven program, all about industrial technologists because the demand is very high for that,” explains Ward. “These two programs added to the hundred programs we already have I think show that we’re moving forward in offering the students of central Alberta and beyond, the kind of program they need that leads to great jobs.”

Another major highlight Ward points to from the past year was the signing of ‘Learning Pathways of Central Alberta’ involving seven area school divisions, meaning high school students from across the region can more easily access and transition into post-secondary, Ward continues.

Other highlights according to Ward, was the province’s announcement in September of $205,000 per year over three years in mental health funding, as well as $450,000 over the next five years for student leadership opportunities, career development and student mental health and wellness services at RDC, courtesy of RBC and the RBC Foundation.

The past year hasn’t come without its challenges however. Ward says they’re the same ones they see every year – tuition freeze, very limited grant increases if any, all making it very challenging for the institution to continue offering the kinds of services and programming that students require.

“We’ve been thinking about ways in which we can become more effective and efficient in using our resources to achieve the same or better results,” he says. “Our senior administration team has been tasked with preparing our budget for the next two years, which will transition us through the Canada Winter Games and into the next election.”

“When an election takes place, you’re not quite sure what the outcome is going to be and what the future is going to be when it comes to how government will support post-secondary education,” says Ward. “Those are the things that I worry about each night, the sustainability of our sector, the work that we can do and need to do to become more effective and efficient with the taxpayer money.”

Other challenges according to Ward include the freezing of salaries, executive salaries and non-union salaries, which he says are in their third year now.

“We continue to ensure that we control our wages, we control our costs and control our discretionary spending, so that as much money as possible can be directed into the classroom to support our faculty and students in all they do.”

Ward however is even more excited about the upcoming year, anticipating 2018 to be a ‘watershed’ year for RDC with the opening of three new buildings in 2018 - the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre, a new Student Residence and an Alternative Energy Lab.

“These three new capital projects will create new teaching/learning space and community spaces for all to enjoy,” says Ward. “Never in our history have we been so active in building new facilities and all during a recession or a slow-down. We were able to achieve great pricing because of timing, which makes paying for them much more manageable.”

In addition to those projects, Ward says they will also be opening a new Community Learning Centre in Ponoka this spring.

“We’re working in partnership with the Town of Ponoka, First Nations and others in that area to provide more learning opportunities in their own community,” explains Ward. “That’s with our Campus Alberta Central partnership with Olds College, so we’re extending our outreach programming.”

This fall, Ward says RDC will be hosting five national sporting events in preparation for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

“We’re ensuring that our facilities will be ready,” says Ward. ‘It’s a test to make sure that they’re ready for the Canada Winter Games and it will be an opportunity for our students, faculty, staff and the community to watch provincial and national sporting events at our college this fall.”

The biggest change Ward is looking forward to in 2018 is the transitioning to degree-granting status, which he says will transform the institution in ways that have never happened before.

“My understanding is that the recommendation has been made to government and they will be debating it early in January if not already,” explains Ward. "We would expect something end of January, early February for sure, one way or another.”

Ward feels there’s still more to be done though to support the economic, cultural and social growth of central Alberta, recognizing the college is a huge part of that.

“We need to grow and evolve if we’re going to be successful and relevant as a post-secondary institution in Alberta and in central Alberta, in particular. So our vision is very clear, our energy and passion of getting it done and our ability to take calculated risks has led us to this point in which we can all say that we’re better today than we were yesterday, but we have lots more to do.”

Reflecting on the support RDC receives from the communities in the region, Ward says it’s been nothing short of outstanding.

“I want to thank all the folks of central Alberta for the support they give our great college,” says Ward. “Without their support, we wouldn’t have these new buildings, we wouldn’t have degree-granting status on the horizon. It’s not something that a college does alone."

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