A recent government decision stands to increase the post-secondary options available to Alberta students. Edmonton's Grant MacEwan College was given the necessary approval to offer degrees, making the institution the first public college to offer Bachelor of Arts programs since the Post Secondary Learning Act was passed.
According to David Beharry, Media Relations Advisor for Grant MacEwan, the move to offer degrees builds on the institution's strong university transfer programs and learner focused approach.
"We're not a university," said Beharry. "We are creating a model of education that is inclusive, and we're not getting away from that. Demand exists for certificates, diplomas, applied degrees and academic degrees. This is something we recognized as a need in Alberta, and we made sure our proposals met high standards."
Grant MacEwan's move is one development, along with Mount Royal College's bid to become an undergraduate university, which could see a dramatically altered post-secondary landscape in coming years. Rather than creating a model where many schools jostle for scarce resources, such developments will improve access to a system that has struggled to keep up with a growing economy, said Beharry.
"This college has worked incredibly hard to ensure that when we offer a degree, it will be a quality degree that will be recognized nationally and internationally," said Beharry, responding to concerns about future Grant MacEwan graduates running into trouble when it comes to grad school.
Beharry also noted that the changes will not affect class sizes and access to instructors with PhD's will remain essential.
While he recognized the pragmatism of Grant MacEwan's approach, Mount Royal College Provost and Vice-President Academic Robin Fisher stressed the importance of the university path for MRC.
Fisher, who was chair of the review committee for Grant MacEwan's proposal, maintained that the quality of the degrees was not an issue. However, he stressed the need for accreditation by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on Mount Royal's path to degree granting status.
"I think that was the opportunity that was clearly offered [to Grant MacEwan] by the Alberta government," Fisher suggested. "However, it's really clear that graduates with degrees from non-AUCC accredited institutions won't find it nearly so easy to get into graduate schools across the country. As we work on it that may change, but this is the current position."
"In the interest of the future of our students, we'd like to take a different route," he said.
Fisher said MRC would be in a unique position to place priority on undergraduate education rather than research.
"Our emphasis on quality undergraduate education is not necessarily a criticism of the larger universities which have a different emphasis," Fisher stated. "Given the demand in a city like Calgary, there's room in the system for different institutions to have different approaches."
University of Calgary VP External Relations Roman Cooney echoed Fisher and Beharry's concerns over the lack of space in Alberta's post secondary institutions. Demand for Mount Royal programs has grown by 90 per cent between 1998 and 2001, while the U of C's demand has increased by 26 per cent over 10 years. The U of C turned away 6,337 students in 2002-2003, said Cooney.
"Choice for students isn't a bad thing," explained Cooney. "We don't necessarily see it as competition from Grant MacEwan or from Mount Royal for that matter. I hate to use the cliche but it's a good one: the question isn't about who gets the biggest slice of the pie. The question is: how do we make a bigger pie?"
Grant MacEwan will be offering undergraduate baccalaureate degrees with majors in Anthro-pology, Economics, English, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology and Sociology.