Budget cuts mean fewer first-year classes
by Miriam Ostermann
Post-secondary institutions across the province had to bite the bullet when the Alberta government, faced with a $4.7-billion deficit, announced a freeze on funding. For Mount Royal University, the freeze came at the expense of first-year students.
After years of steady increases to its provincially funded budget, a budget freeze meant the university had to reduce the number of first-year students in degree programs, and as a result turned away more students than last year.
The loss of the previously expected six per cent increase to the 2010 budget left the insti- tution with the same amount of grants as last year, but not enough money to proceed with a long-planned increase in students. A decision needed to be made between filling classroom chairs or maintaining quality education.
Though the university was able to save money before the recession, that missing six per cent combined with inflation and a budget that’s only sufficient for two years instead of the required three has required a balancing act.
“Our goal was to meet the promises we had made to our students, to maintain the qual- ity of instruction,” said Donna Spaulding, special advisor to the provost and the vice-pres- ident academic Robin Fisher. So we had to reduce the number of first-year students, and if we hadn’t, I believe the quality would’ve suffered. “Mount Royal was expecting more money for degree pro- grams. We sort of averaged out enrolment (by) reducing first- year intake to balance out with third-years.”
Although the Registrar is still crunching numbers, Spaulding said there was an obvious increase in admissions averaging roughly 1,000 more students in all programs combined. The budget freeze affected first-year students who applied for bachelor’s degree programs in arts, business administration, communications, nursing and science.
The Alberta government released their $3.2-billion budget back in the spring with officials saying institutions had ample time to prepare.
“When budget 2010 was re- leased, post-secondary institu- tions knew well ahead of time that the best scenario would be that the increase would be zero. So they knew that this budget was not going to be increasing due to the overall economic climate,” said Rachel Bouska, spokesperson for Alberta Advanced Education and Technology. “We are way better off than some other jurisdictions… post-secondary education is a priority for this government, which is why there were no decreases to funding from last year.”
However, post-secondary student groups across the province had higher expectations and expressed their concerns and proposals by lobbying the government. While Bouska said participating candidate — enough time for one question and answer. But if politics were a potential suitor, it would be legitimate to admit that it’s also a little selective. To best represent Mount Royal University’s demographic — where the average student is a 22-year-old female — 20 student spots will be made available by student proposals and ideas are appreciated and encouraged, some, including Robert Jones, president of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, felt their proposals had not received proper consid- eration.
“I think they already had their plan and I don’t feel, personally, that there was a whole bunch of wiggle room for what they were prepared to do,” Jones said.
“I think it was crisis manage- ment at its finest with the government,” he continued. “There should’ve been more students able to access Mount Royal, especially in the first-year pro- grams, but because the government froze funding it basically left Mount Royal with a tough choice of flooding seats and reducing the quality, or maintain- ing the quality of education for the students that were already here… it was a really difficult balancing act.”
While a decision on next year’s budget is still up in the air and won’t be released until spring 2011, both Jones and Bouska said that the freeze is likely to continue. For students, it means a higher level of competition and higher GPA standards, especially when many people’s desire for an upgraded degree or education was rekindled as a result of the downturn in the economy.