TORONTO – EDUCATION – Ontario’s 24 colleges are seeking an urgent meeting with Premier Kathleen Wynne to address the funding crisis that has colleges facing what could be a cumulative $1.9-billion shortfall by 2024-25.
“The chronic underfunding of college education has reached the breaking point,” said Fred Gibbons, the president of Northern College and chair of Colleges Ontario. “High-quality programs that are critical to helping people pursue rewarding careers are in jeopardy as the government continues to ignore the escalating cost pressures at colleges.”
Since 2007-08, the provincial funding for colleges’ operating costs – in real dollars – has decreased each year. Colleges have suffered an accumulated shortfall – adjusted for inflation – of about $900 million over the past 10 years.
A new report by PwC Canada, commissioned by Colleges Ontario, indicates that if no actions are taken to change current trends of revenues and expenses, colleges could face an annual operating deficit that will exceed $400 million a year by 2024-25 and a cumulative shortfall of more than $1.9 billion by that time.
While colleges have worked to manage funding shortfalls through greater efficiencies, the sector is at the breaking point. The government’s recent announcement that tuition fees at Ontario’s colleges will remain among the lowest in Canada worsens the fiscal squeeze.
College representatives will be meeting with Advanced Education and Skills Development Minister Deb Matthews in February to discuss the issue. The colleges are also seeking an urgent meeting with the premier.
The underfunding of college education is particularly puzzling at a time when the economy is being transformed by accelerating technological advancements. Without a change in direction, Ontario won’t have a highly skilled workforce and the economy will continue to sputter.
“The ongoing neglect of college education makes no sense,” Gibbons said. “If the ability of Ontario’s colleges is any further impaired from being able to offer high quality programs and services, growing numbers of Ontarians won’t be able to find meaningful and well-paying employment in an already difficult economy.
“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the college system this year, we are looking to work with the government to ensure this issue is addressed in the 2017 Ontario Budget,” Gibbons said. “The budget must commit to improvements that ensure college education can be sustained for the next 50 years.”
The full PwC report can be found on the Colleges Ontario website.