Dear Editor: Post-secondary — an important part of southern Alberta’s economy, heritage and future.
Over the next few weeks, Alberta’s government will be making some important decisions that will shape Lethbridge and our region’s future for years to come.
The 2021-22 Provincial Budget comes after a year in which Alberta has sustained one hit after another — from the pandemic to a collapse in global energy prices to a sustained jobs crisis that is putting more and more pressure on our families and neighbours. There can be no doubt: the choices in front of the provincial government are difficult, and come at a time when our province’s treasury is challenged by low revenues.
That being said, the premier and his ministers must be mindful their choices in this year’s budget do not sow the seed of unintended consequences that could hamper our region’s (and our province’s) recovery — or more worryingly, make our current economic problems worse.
Southern Alberta will be particularly impacted by the priorities the government will set around post-secondary education in our province. Given the uncertainty in the sector and in the economy, including a number of long-term and expensive reviews by this government, we believe the Government of Alberta needs to reconsider its current policy of defunding post-secondary education, and use Budget 2021 as an opportunity to acknowledge the cultural and economic importance of advanced education to southern Albertans, and to invest in our collective future.
Advanced education in our community has deep, fibrous roots that reach back decades into our region’s history. Our post-secondary institutions weren’t just gifted to us by governments in distant Edmonton, but rather the result of years of advocacy and labour by visionaries and workers in southern Alberta.
These remarkable forebears saw the incredible potential of our region’s people, and how we could make incredible contributions if we had access to the education we needed right here at home. After years of advocating we shouldn’t have to send our kids hundreds of miles to get an education, Lethbridge College was established in 1957 as Canada’s first publicly-funded community college, with other institutions following over the subsequent decades.
As our government debates the future of post-secondary in our province, the same is true today — as it was in the days of our institution’s founders: Southern Albertans deserve educational opportunities here at home, and our communities need to remain attractive places for young people to make their homes and raise their families.
Without these opportunities and the infusion of new members of our communities, southern Alberta faces realities not unlike those in other parts of our Canadian prairies.
Aside from the fact our kids and young people deserve world-class opportunities here at home, the provincial government also needs to realize the remarkable economic impact our institutions have on our regional economy.
In a recent study completed by an independent research firm, it was estimated Lethbridge College created over $425 million in economic impacts within our region. More than this, when we combine the impacts of the college’s operations with the spin-off impacts of employee spending, outside students spending money into our community, and increased economic activity from LC alumni, it’s estimated the college supports 4,792 jobs in our region — almost one in every 20 jobs in the Lethbridge area. Further, it’s estimated for every dollar invested by Alberta taxpayers, the college returns $3.70 in value to taxpayers through increased revenue and lower expenditures in other social programs.
When we pull back and look at this, it’s clear our region needs our provincial government to support our institutions, not just to preserve our kids’ access to advanced learning close to home, but also to provide stability to our regional economy.
The students, staff and faculty of Lethbridge College know our province has had a tough year, and many of our neighbours are hurting and anxious right now.
Many of us know the gut-churning reality of what it means to be out of work, and we are eager to help our region and our province relaunch after the pandemic gloom begins to dissipate. But we can’t do that, and our institution cannot continue to fuel jobs and the economy in our region if the provincial government does not put its plans to defund our sector on hold.
If there is one thing we want to communicate clearly to Premier Kenney, his ministers and our provincial representatives in southern Alberta it is this: we know money is tight, but making reductions to advanced education isn’t just a rebuke of our region’s history and culture, it threatens jobs and the economy here, and our province’s future.
Lethbridge College Faculty Association
Lethbridge College Student Association
AUPE Local 71/01