The provincial budget has dealt a $15.4-million blow to the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College and those cuts will trickle down to the city's economy, too.
"It's a large amount of money to cut out of our budget and so it's going to require some significant work," said U of L president Mike Mahon. "Not only does it impact the university it impacts the city of Lethbridge because we are one of the largest employers. This is a blow potentially to the economy of Lethbridge as well."
The U of L will have $11.9 million less to work with while the college will have $3.5 million less.
"We're working on a plan now," said Paula Burns, Lethbridge College president. "We have engaged our college leadership council in asking the questions 'What are the opportunities that we have?' and 'How can we manage to absorb this significant reduction in our budget for the following year?'"
Although the college reported a restructuring of rural campuses was already underway, officials announced Tuesday its Fort Macleod and Pincher Creek campuses will close. Current students will be able to finish their courses but no new registrations will be taken. The college will continue to offer programs at its Claresholm, Crowsnest Pass and Vulcan campuses. Programs offered include adult upgrading, trades training and its unit clerk and licensed practical nursing programs.
Town hall meetings are being planned by both the college and the university and they're working feverishly to figure out how to make do with so much less.
"This was a complete shock. We had been told by the province last year that we would have three years of stable funding at two per cent each year. We had obviously been planning our budgets accordingly. Now, of course, as we started to see how the provincial economy was unfolding and had conversations with the ministry, we knew that there was a good chance that that two per cent would not be maintained. We were doing some scenario planning but none of our scenarios had this kind of cut in mind," said Mike Mahon, U of L president. "We just did not envision that the government would make such a dramatic cut to our budget. In talking to my colleagues from across the province I would say everybody was pretty much in the same boat."
Even if the province had come through with a two per cent increase the U of L would still have had to cut $2 million to cover cost increases of about four per cent.
"The cut is larger than the budget of the entire Faculty of Management," Mahon said. "Consequently we are going to have go through a pretty detailed process of trying how to move through this cut."
Burns said it's too soon to say if any positions will be cut but the college will consider not filling positions left vacant through retirement or not filling current open positions.
"Our priority is to maintain our focus on teaching and learning and serving our students so we'll be looking at all possibilities to do that," she said.
The college is still looking for more information regarding the $18 million it will receive over three years for its Trades and Technology Renewal and Innovation Project. The college won't see any of the funds in the first year, then $8 million in the second year and the remaining $10 million in the third year.
"Our goal is still to continue to be shovel-ready this summer. We just have some additional information and clarification needed. We're pleased that it was identified in the budget as a priority," Burns said.
Both campuses will also see less money from the Infrastructure Maintenance Program. The U of L's funding was cut by 2.3 per cent and the college's by about 20 per cent.