In response to provincial budget cuts, Portage College is suspending three programs and reducing its workforce in order to balance its budget. The College announced last week that it was suspending delivery of the Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) and Pre-Employment Heavy Equipment Technician (HET) programs (along with the previously announced suspension of Accounting Technician) for the 2021-22 academic year. These program reductions meant that the equivalent of 2.5 jobs were cut. In addition to program reductions, 4.7 vacant positions were eliminated and the equivalent of 3.6 employees in the service department were declared redundant.
“Despite what might seem like small numbers compared to others in the news, these are tough times for the College,” said Nancy Broadbent, President and CEO of Portage College. “As a small institution we are closely connected to our colleagues and as such releasing people from their jobs is a difficult decision. This has a very emotional impact on the individuals let go and the staff who remain. We are also very aware of the ripple effect on our communities.”
In 2021-22 Portage College’s Campus Alberta Grant will be reduced by 4.2% ($904,000). This is the third year in a row the College’s grant has been cut. Since 2019-20 (including 2021-22), the College’s provincial funding has been reduced by $2.864 million (12.5%). In addition, Portage is facing a further cut of 3.89% ($808,969) in 2022-23 and must lower its overall cost per full load equivalent (FLE) or risk losing further grant money due to performance metrics coming in 2022-23.
In addition to the reductions, austerity measures will remain in place at the College to keep travel, supply and capital spending to a minimum, focusing mainly on what is essential for student success. Annual increments for Faculty and AUPE will continue as per current collective agreements but Excluded and Management salaries remain frozen.
Vice President Academic Guy Gervais noted that the decision to suspend programs was not taken lightly.
“It is always a regrettable position for the College to reduce programs,” he said. “However, we are no longer able to financially support the HEO and HET programs in their current state.”
The College will be actively working with industry and other stakeholders to pursue new models to offer the HEO training in the future.
“We need to find a way to reduce costs per FLE student so that the program can be financially sustainable,” explained Gervais. “In addition, we need to incorporate work integrated learning opportunities in the program to improve employability of the students.”
It’s a different story for the HET program. Currently, the College is not intending to pursue a restart as the program requires significant investment in facilities and equipment. In addition, the curriculum is undergoing change at the provincial level.
“In the future if demand exists for students and employers in our region we will pursue a partnership with another post-secondary to serve the students within our region,” said Gervais. “The College is happy to partner with industry, communities and other post-secondary institutions to offer the best possible education and program selection in as cost-efficient a manner as possible.”