A leading contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party says he supports turning two Alberta colleges into universities.

In a speech made in Edmonton on Tuesday, Jim Dinning said turning Calgary's Mount Royal College and Edmonton's Grant MacEwan College into undergraduate universities would expand opportunities for young people.

"Students that would otherwise be turned away, will have greater access to an undergraduate university degree and all of the graduate school possibilities that come with it," he said.

Dinning said his platform also includes plans to reduce interest rates on student loans to the prime rate. He also wants the province to assume control of the student loan program in Alberta.

Long road to university

Adam Boechler, a vice-presidentwith the Mount Royal College Students Association, said he likes Dinning's idea of making his school a university, but there's still a long way to go before it can happen.

"It's not something that you snap your fingers and instantly become a university. You need ratification by the Alberta Quality Council and, more importantly, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada."

Boechler said he expects it will take at least another six years before Mount Royal College could become an accredited university.

Dinning also said on Tuesday he would double the tax credit for Alberta's working families at a cost of $200 million a year.

Under the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit, the maximum benefit for a family of four would increase to $1,710 a year from $640. The plan would also raise the family income threshold to broaden the number of people receiving the benefit.

Dinning is one of several candidates vying to replace PremierRalph Klein. Conservative party members will vote for a new leader on Nov. 25.

With files from the Canadian Press