by Joel Ward, President, RDC
In my role at Red Deer College, I have the opportunity to connect with people from across central Alberta. Whether this is at events hosted by RDC or at other activities in the community, I always enjoy speaking with students, alumni, parents, partners and interested citizens. A great many people are connected with RDC, and what I’ve found through my conversations is that they truly care about what’s happening here.
Over the years, people have asked me a variety of questions about our College, and today I’m happy to provide you with a sample of the commonly asked questions and my thoughts on each.
How many students attend RDC, and where are they from?
On any given day, we have about 7,500 students on our campuses. When I look back at our information from 2016-17, I see that 65% of our students came from central Alberta, with 15% from northern Alberta, 13% from the southern part and 7% coming from outside of our province. These students come from across Canada and from 16 countries around the world.
What is all the construction about?
We are fortunate to be in a time of growth and development at Red Deer College, and each new facility taking shape across main campus is the result of many years of careful and strategic planning. It’s hard to believe the preliminary site work for the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre/Centre des Jeux du Canada Gary W. Harris began back in the fall of 2015. Each day, we are moving closer to its completion and, in September 2018, we will welcome our first group of students to this teaching and learning centre. Not long after, the building will be a huge part of the 2019 Canada Winter Games. Our second construction project, the Alternative Energy Lab, demonstrates our commitment to the exploration and demonstration of new environmental technologies. The lab will provide learning and research opportunities for students and businesses to explore alternative energy solutions. Our third project, a new Residence, is under construction and is visible from 32nd Street. This unique facility incorporates solar panels on three sides and includes apartment-style studio suites, access for those with mobility challenges and short-term accommodation for our Apprenticeship students. All three new buildings support RDC’s goal of reducing our carbon footprint through energy efficient technologies.
What can I take at RDC?
We offer more than 100 programs, and these include everything from collaborative degrees, where students can take all of their courses at RDC, to university transfer programs, where they take their first year or two at RDC and complete at another institution. We also offer skilled trades, diplomas and certificates. This fall, we launched two new programs – the Human Resources Management Graduate Certificate and the Instrumentation Engineering Technology Diploma.
What new programs are on the horizon?
Looking ahead, our senior administrators and faculty are always looking for ways to develop new programs that will offer students the real-world information they need for today’s jobs. One example of this is happening right now in the School of Creative Arts, with two proposed cutting-edge programs – the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Film, Theatre, and Live Entertainment, and the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Animation and Visual Effects. Once we have approval from the government, we intend to launch these programs in the fall of 2018, offering students one-of-a-kind opportunities in the ever-growing film and special effects industries.
When will we be able to complete our degrees at RDC?
We continue to work with our government partners to achieve our goal of RDC becoming a degree- granting institution. If people didn’t have to leave to complete their degrees, as I described above,
Red Deer College | 100 College Boulevard | Box 5005 | Red Deer | AB | Canada | T4N 5H5 | www.rdc.ab.ca
then it would have a huge, positive impact on students, families and even the economy of central Alberta. We will continue to strive to make this goal a reality for our future students.
These questions provide a snapshot of what’s happening here at RDC, and they show how we are always growing and evolving to better serve you, our students and partners and communities. As we continue to grow, I look forward to sharing this information with you – in this column and when we meet in the community.
Joel Ward is President & CEO of Red Deer College
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Learning loss piles up alongside snow while ‘e-learning’ collects dust
From the Fraser Institute
During COVID school closures, students in the province missed at least 125 days of school between March 2020 and February 2022, more than any other province (except Ontario), generating a significant learning loss from which students have not caught up.
In a world increasingly connected by technology, and given the Nova Scotia government recently spent tens of millions of dollars enabling at-home learning, one might think that students would seamlessly shift to online learning during the recent snowstorms to avoid losing crucial instructional time. Unfortunately, that’s not happening.
During COVID school closures, the Nova Scotia and federal governments spent at least $31.5 million dollars on “virtual school” and other technological upgrades so students could, according to the provincial government, “succeed, even in an at-home learning environment.”
Unfortunately, the electronic learning infrastructure—which includes Chromebooks, laptops and iPads for students and teachers, and additional support and new teachers for Nova Scotia Virtual School—is collecting dust in a corner while Nova Scotia kids are falling further behind.
This isn’t some blip in an otherwise strong record of instructional time for Nova Scotia students. During COVID school closures, students in the province missed at least 125 days of school between March 2020 and February 2022, more than any other province (except Ontario), generating a significant learning loss from which students have not caught up.
Indeed, according to the latest results (2022) from the Programme for International Assessment (PISA), the gold standard of testing worldwide, Nova Scotia 15-year-olds trail the Canadian average in reading by 18 points and trail the Canadian average in math by 27 points. For context, PISA characterizes a 20-point drop as one year of lost learning.
Moreover, between 2003 and 2022, Nova Scotia student performance in reading dropped by 24 points—more than one year of learning loss—and dropped by 45 points in math. In other words, in math, 15-year-old Nova Scotia students today are more than two years behind where Nova Scotia 15-year-olds were in 2003.
These troubling trends underscore the need to put the existing e-learning infrastructure to work. During a recent two-week period, students in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education school district missed seven days of school due to snow. And some students missed an additional five days due to weather and power outages. That’s nearly three weeks. While more instructional time is not a silver bullet for student success—and with power outages, e-learning is not a perfect solution—it could still make a big difference.
According to international research, missed classroom time causes learning loss and impacts children for life, reducing their life-long earnings. Nova Scotia education researcher Paul Bennett found that lost classroom time due to inclement weather compounds absenteeism and sets back student achievement and social progress.
The Houston government should ensure that Nova Scotian students have access to teacher-directed e-learning when schools are closed and, like other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States, abandon the practise of simply cancelling school due to inclement weather. It’s simply common sense. The snow may pile up, but there’s no good reason why learning loss must pile up with it. Parents are right to demand access to the e-learning they’ve already paid for through their tax dollars.
Bad student visa policy is no solution for bad student visa policy
From the MacDonald Laurier Institute
By Ken Coates
Making matters worse, a Statistics Canada report released in November of 2023 found that the number of postsecondary students actually enrolled at Canadian Universities was 20% to 30% smaller than the total number of individuals with international student visa’s.
Post-secondary education is in turmoil, thrust into the headlines by the Government of Canada’s decision to cut back on international student visas and work permits. The near panicked response by colleges and universities across the county has attracted attention. The federal decision is poor public policy, with flawed timing, significant negative impacts, and potentially serious long-term implications. But the ‘solutions’ implemented in January 2024 are a classic example of using bad policy to address bad policy. The fallout from this mélange of policy decisions could severely damage Canadian post-secondary institutions and the Canadian economy.
Governments, colleges, and universities have come to rely on international students, now numbering close to 1 million in Canada, particularly their tuition fees and the money that they bring into the country. The tuition fee revenues freed governments from the obligation to provide adequate funding to post-secondary institutions. Colleges and universities, for their part, used international student funding to avoid difficult, painful decisions related to the level of provincial support (the territories are not strongly affected by these processes).
The current controversy reflects more than a decade of poor and ineffective federal policies. Canada opened the gates for immigration, reaching unprecedented levels of refugees, formal immigrants, and hundreds of thousands of international students. Making matters worse, a Statistics Canada report released in November of 2023 found that the number of postsecondary students actually enrolled at Canadian Universities was 20% to 30% smaller than the total number of individuals with international student visa’s. Pointing to significant abuse of the study permit system, the report states, “It is unclear whether [the international ‘students’] stayed in Canada and, if so, what their main activities were.”
Our rapidly rising population is now blamed, not always accurately, for a serious national housing shortage and sky-rocketing prices, particularly in the major cities. The international student debate highlights the shocking shortcomings of the nation’s approach to housing and the absence of a thoughtful plan for population growth and rapid urbanization.
Bad federal policy is more than matched by poor provincial decisions, particularly in Ontario. The Liberal and Progressive Conservative administrations in Ontario have underfunded colleges and universities, dramatically so, relative to the other provinces and territories. Frozen tuition fees only added to institutional fiscal challenges. Several provinces, again led by Ontario, doubled down by authorizing many for-profit private colleges, most operating in league with public universities and colleges, to recruit international students. At the provincial level, the influx of international students, coupled with high tuition fees, masked the deficiencies of provincial funding, leaving underlying financial challenges unaddressed.
Colleges and universities had bad policies of their own. Without the government funding to meet their salary, administrative and capital costs, post-secondary institutions became addicted to international student fees, the crack cocaine of advanced education. Dozens of colleges and universities, enrolled thousands of international students, feeding the bottom line but increasing the reliance on international students and high tuition fees. They assumed, over-optimistically, that the steady flow of international students would never slow, let alone stop. They are now paying the price for that miscalculation.
Some institutions, particularly small institutions in northern and small-town locations, eve established satellite facilities in big cities to capitalize on strong student demand and to supplement small and stagnant enrollments on the home campus. International students and satellite operations were lifelines for institutions that would otherwise be in severe difficulty.
The Government of Canada’s response to the convergence of multiple bad policy streams consists of additional bad policy decisions. International student visas have been slashed by 35% and student-friendly work permit arrangements have been cut back dramatically. Canada’s once wide-open doors for international students have been partially closed. A carefully cultivated reputation for being receptive to foreign students has been degraded, if not dismantled, in one quick federal move.
The federal policy, announced with seemingly little coordination with provincial authorities and institutions, is a plainly political move, an urgent step taken by a Liberal government reeling in the polls. The decision was released in January 2024, at a key stage in the international student cycle. Colleges, public and private, are vulnerable to dramatic shifts in enrollment and they now face catastrophic losses of income. The implications go much further. Residences will want for students and employers of the eager international students will struggle to find replacements. Many college and university faculty and staff, particularly vulnerable short-term and sessional workers, will likely lose their jobs. And the national economy will lose out on a big portion of the billions of dollars spent annually by the international students.
The problem has been years in the making. The government may have been trying to make up for lost time but the hasty federal decision has already had an impact. Colleges and universities are already reporting sharp drops in applications. The message that Canada is no longer friendly for international students is out globally. The damage to student enrollment might be greater than anticipated.
A more appropriate approach would have been to announce a gradual reduction, starting in 2025, giving the colleges and universities time to adjust to a potential fiscal disaster. Another sensible alternative could have been to take aim at the abuse of the student visa system and to ensure those who entered the country under a study permit were actually enrolled in and attending classes. Bad policy often comes from knee-jerk reactions to political processes; good policy takes careful thought and, often, time.
Canada’s large international student recruitment industry brought billions of dollars into the Canadian economy. Thousands of students worked while they studied and made successful transitions to permanent resident status. Many people who came to Canada as high fee-paying students have become Canadian citizens and taxpayers. The students followed the rules, as did the colleges and universities that capitalized on clear and long-standing government policy. The federal and provincial policies may have been poorly designed and inappropriate, but governments set the parameters and expectations and shouldn’t punish others for their shortsightedness.
Bad policy, to be succinct, is no solution for bad policy, but that is what is happening to international student education in Canada.
Ken Coates is a distinguished fellow and director of Indigenous affairs at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a professor of Indigenous governance at Yukon University.
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