By: Liam Berti

Doug Wotherspoon discussed plans to push further toward mobile learning at the budget meeting March 7, as Duane McNair looks on. Tuition hikes on regulated programs will be less than the recent five percent.

The continued digitization in social services and education, a continuing priority of the evolution of experiential learning and product development on campus are among the 2013-14 goals of the college, after it released its budget March 7.

A heavy emphasis has been placed on mobile, online, hybrid and applied learning opportunities while continuing to evolve the services already offered, the college’s management has decided. The expansion of these will translate into an estimated $2 million increase in mobile learning fees.

“Even though we continue to be the lowest funded system in the province, we must continue to find ways to innovate and be more creative,” said Algonquin President Kent MacDonald. “Anyone who has spent any time in the industry would tell you that the lifeblood of survival is new product development and that’s what our faculty have been developing consistently.”

The business plan also outlined the college’s intention to hire 36 new staff positions come the fall 2013 semester. To supplement this, $2.5 million of Algonquin’s budget will be dedicated to professional development of faculty and staff.

“There’s a large portion targeting faculty and support staff in ensuring that they have the comfort and confidence and skills set they need to move into that mobile environment,” said Doug Wotherspoon, executive director of advancement. “We’re digital immigrants training digital natives, so as a newcomer to the field we need to get up to speed.”

Treasurer and Vice-President Duane McNair reported that, for the first time since 2010-11, Algonquin is projected to be above the benchmark in being able to match each dollar of liability and debt with current assets. This was in large part due to the college’s long-term investments into the Robert C. Gillett Student Commons and residences, among many others.

While both McNair and Wotherspoon highlighted the admirable financial health of the college, they were quick to bring attention to the key challenges facing Algonquin in both the short and long-term future.

Most notably, Ontario’s Liberal government’s commitment to eliminate the province’s $11.9 million deficit by 2017-18 will have an immediate impact on the already lean public funding the college receives. Also, McNair expressed his belief that there is little hope or reason to expect new capital funding being made available to address those needs.

In the approved budget, which takes effect on April 1 of this year, only 36 per cent of Algonquin’s overall budget is to be covered by public funding. This corresponds with previous reports from Colleges Ontario stating that colleges in the province receive the lowest grant and tuition fee revenue per student of any Canadian province.

“We anticipate that ratio will go down even further, given the most recent announcements by the ministry,” said McNair. “There is much fiscal uncertainty.”

In the past, the provincial government has allowed tuition fee increases of up to five per cent each year. As outlined in the college’s 2013-14 budget, tuition fees for funded programs have been conservatively assumed to have a zero per cent increase. As it stands, Ontario colleges are the least expensive form of post-secondary education for government on a per student basis.

“We anticipate that how much we’re allowed to increase tuition fee rates will be lower than past years,” said McNair. “With the events going on in Quebec, we feel the province is likely to cap our tuition fee increases even further than they have previously.”

While that percentage is predicted to be significantly lower, deregulated programs at the college, which includes many programs from the school of media and design, will not be subject to the restrictions.

To compliment this, Algonquin is preparing for a $2.3 million funding reduction in 2013-14 due to the provincial budget reductions announced in March 2012, which include the elimination of Small Northern and Rural Grant and International Student Recovery Fee, to name a few.

“We have those in our projections and we’re planning for those reductions,” said McNair. “Again, it just highlights the ongoing challenges we have with balancing our budgets.”

While the tuition increases will remain undetermined until the province announces its policy, the college is projecting a 3.1 per cent increase in enrolment levels. The impact of this is projected to translate into a $4.4 million increase in full-time revenues.

The 2013-14 budget was approved by the Board of Governors in February, two months earlier than normal, allowing the institution to plan and implement its initiatives come April 1.

“This year is different in that our budget is approved in February and not April,” said MacDonald. “That is going to allow us to hit the ground running.”