Time to stop growing?

Photo - Brett Neilsen

Photo – Brett Neilsen

Provost ponders future of U of R campus

“How big can this campus become?”

At the Feb. 8 budget town hall meeting, Provost Tom Chase suggested that limiting growth may be in the best interests of the university. Posing the question to the audience, Chase asked, “How much do we want to grow this campus in an increasingly competitive environment?”

On Feb. 25, the Carillon had the opportunity to sit down with Chase and discuss the future of the U of R, as well as the implications of limiting growth.

“We think of enrollments, and the mix of enrollments all the time,” said Chase from his office in the Administration/Humanities building. “Undergraduate vs. graduate, domestic vs. international, on-campus vs. off-campus. What is the appropriate balance of enrollments, and what is the right size for the University?”

This topic is of increasing importance at U of R, where provincial funding has not kept pace with the rapid influx of students, and the campus is suffering from rapidly deteriorating infrastructure.

“To be honest, I don’t think I could give you a number,” said Chase when asked when the U of R might stop growing. Chase continued to say that a population of 15,000 students was “something to consider a reasonable goal… We could certainly accommodate 15,000 people on the current campus.”

Currently, U of R has more than 14,300 full and part-time students enrolled in courses, approximately 1,000 of which are online students.

“If we are focused on the physical campus itself, 15,000 is probably something that is reasonable to discuss.”

“We are trying to consider what we might do over the next three to five years to ensure the financial stability of the University, to ensure that we do what we set out to do in the strategic plan, and how all of those things fit together in the right mix.”

Chase noted that U of R offers unique online programs such as a masters in health administration, which is designed to meet the educational needs of mid-career professionals.

“They have more than doubled their projected enrollment,” said Chase, “indicating a very high level of demand for academic programming at the graduate level from people who want to remain in their home community.”

“So we’re asking ourselves, ‘are there other possibilities where we can grow enrollment without putting a strain on campus facilities?’”

A shift in Saskatchewan’s population demographics is also presenting issues for growth at U of R.

“Until about 2022-23, we’re going to be faced with a decline in the number of students graduating from Saskatchewan high schools,” said Chase. “The question for us is, how do we maintain our enrollments when our traditional catchment area is going to be stressed for seven or eight years?”

Chase cited the main challenge associated with the U of R’s rapid growth and lack of funding as “making sure that we don’t stretch ourselves too thinly. Making sure that the programs are taught to a high standard and supported to a high standard.”

There are also financial concerns associated with limiting growth.

“We always seek to keep tuition and fee increases to a minimum,” said Chase, “but we also have to ensure that the university is financially stable.”

Chase also noted an increasing level of collaboration with other institutions, most notably the University of Saskatchewan. Currently, U of R offers specialized physics courses online to students at U of S.

“We welcome that kind of inter-university collaboration,” said Chase, “especially in areas that are relatively small.

“I would see a campus which certainly is open to program innovation. I think we need to build as best we can on existing strengths – and we have many – but also to anticipate and meet the needs of students.”

When asked who would make the final decision on how large the campus should grow, Chase said, “It’s a campus discussion, in the context of the strategic plan. I don’t see us capping enrollments at this point. We certainly have not had that discussion.”

Despite the upcoming challenges, Provost Chase remains hopeful for the future of U of R.

“[Canadian post-secondary institutions] are all thinking through these things,” he said. “I remain very optimistic.”

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