By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Ontario’s 24 colleges are seeking an urgent meeting with Premier Kathleen Wynne in order to talk about the looming funding crisis the institutions are facing.
In a recent news release from Colleges Ontario, the advocacy group claims that if funding is not increased to the province’s colleges in the coming years, many will be unable to deliver needed services to students.
“The problem had been accumulating for some time,” says Durham College president Don Lovisa. “More and more colleges are being asked to do more and more by the government…It’s just not sustainable, and as a system, we just decided to kind of stand up and say it’s time for a different look at the colleges.”
A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) indicated that unless colleges begin to cut staff or the funding model changes, Ontario’s colleges will be facing a $1.9-billion deficit by 2025.
According to Lovisa, the main issue is the per-student grants that colleges receive, which have been stagnant for the last several years, currently sitting at 2008 levels, and are the second lowest in Canada. Not only that, those grants are facing further cuts.
“The grant has been declining year after year. We’ve been under a tuition freeze, capping tuition at three per cent for the last three years is going to go for another two years,” Lovisa says.
That freeze only allows Ontario colleges to increase tuition fees each year by three percent, and while increasing tuition to address the shortfall is putting the issue on the back of students, Lovisa says it’s already there.
“It either goes on the backs of the students or it goes on the backs of the taxpayers and we’re forced at this point to put it on students,” he says.
This means increased fees for on-campus programs and the introduction of paid parking.
“There has to be some money infused into the system to make us sustainable,” the college president says.
Currently, the situation for Durham College is a “healthy” one, according to Lovisa, but it won’t last.
“We’ve had a period of good growth, positive growth, and Durham College is healthy and the next few years for us look OK. But as we look long term, again, if something doesn’t change, then we’ll be under some pressures too.”
Residents of Oshawa will remember this past summer as Durham College received a series of grants from both levels of government for its newest addition to campus, the Centre of Collaborative Education. In total, the new building received $22 million from the province and $13 million from the feds. However, Lovisa says these capital grants, while being great to help expand the campus, do little to help with the operations of the institution.
“That doesn’t put any new money into our pockets for operating. We expand our footprint and we basically have the same operating dollars,” he says.
The premier did pay a visit to both Durham College and UOIT on Monday, although it wasn’t to speak with them about funding. As part of a provincial tour, Wynne is holding roundtable sessions to discuss provincial matters and address concerns from residents. Wynne’s office told The Oshawa Express that, as this time, no meeting has been set between the premier and Colleges Ontario.