Portage College has cut 10 per cent from its 2013-2014 budget. The hit of -7.3% to the college’s base grant was in addition to the normal operating cost increases associated with contractual obligations. The budget reduction was also effected by indirect costs and anticipated loss of revenue associated with other provincial and federal budget reductions to funds supporting underrepresented learners.
The reduction of $4,052,097 to the college’s budget translates into job losses, one campus closure, a campus reduction, and a shift in the delivery of academic upgrading. Budget 2013-2014 eliminates 15 full time positions; 9.9 faculty and 4.5 non-instructional positions. The leased facility in Vegreville campus will not be renewed. The leased facility in Bonnyville will be reduced in size by more than one half. The College closed no programs in balancing its budget.
Nancy Broadbent, the Vice President of Student and College Services, led the more than month-long financial review which included detailed analysis of budget and operations, and guided the operations team’s recommendations and decision-making.
Broadbent says that the 2013-14 budget places Portage College in a position of strength. “We are poised to address opportunities before us. We regret the loss of our colleagues. Reductions are always difficult, and change causes immediate distress” she says.
“Reductions impact all locations of the college but we are not seeing the elimination of programs,” says Vice President Academic, Mardere Birkill. “There will be significant change to how academic upgrading is delivered. We have been anticipating the need for change in that area for some time,” Birkill added.
“Students will have access to the upgrading courses they might need to enrol in further workforce training. We will be deepening our partnerships within the K-12 system. The ultimate goal should be the elimination of any need for up-grading.”
Birkill says, “The strategic focus of our 2013-14 budget challenged us to re-envision certain access strategies, particularly that of academic upgrading. The new delivery model focuses on competency acquisition. Portage will give adult learners more choices in courses and let students set their rates of progress. Our upgrading students will have fewer restrictions on where they learn, and at what times they choose to learn. They will be able to pick individual courses and not be obliged to register for an entire upgrading program.”
President and CEO Dr. Trent Keough said that the closure of the Vegreville Campus and the reduction of the Bonnyville Campus are regrettable actions. “Student numbers do not warrant the accompanying infrastructure and service costs attributable to these locations, he said.
“We previously announced the suspension of our operations in Wainwright effective June 30, 2013. In a time of reduced budget we are not able to sustain low demand, under-utilized leased locations.”
On the shift in delivery strategy for upgrading Keough said, “Historical enrolment patterns were pointing us to change. The recent budget changes have only accelerated the anticipated decline in our traditional upgrading programming. We must remember that our students evolve with us through change. The increase in part-time learners is a positive example of the college’s recognizing shifting learning expectations. A new access model, one that increases the responsibilities of adult learners for their individual success, is also responsive to an ever-growing ‘I want to learn where and when I want’ attitude. People have lifestyles, work and family lives that prohibit some from traditional learning activities.”
Brydon Ward, Chair of the Board of Governors of Portage College says that the college administration addressed the budget shortfall systematically and with deliberate concern to ensure the long-term viability of the organization.
“The government has apparently moved from an access agenda to one of system rationalization. The college has done the work of the government in the past by expanding access to students. There is now a new government direction of non-duplication of programs, cost control and increased focus on results, and Portage College will rise to this challenge” says Ward. Some learners may be lost in this shifting of this government focus. Portage College will remain a strong advocate for under-represented learners.”
Keough and Ward offered sympathies to individuals losing their jobs and others negatively impacted by the budget decisions. They thanked all college personnel for their ongoing commitment to the organization.