Grande Prairie college tapped to become university

Grande Prairie Regional College is one step closer to becoming an accredited university.

'It's probably the proudest moment in my career,' says Grande Prairie Regional College president

Don Gnatiuk, president of Grande Prairie Regional College, says the announcement marked the proudest day of his career. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Grande Prairie Regional College is one step closer to becoming an accredited university.

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt announced Thursday the school will be allowed to grant degrees, in addition to certificates and diplomas.

The next closest degree-granting school 460 kilometres away in Edmonton.

Grande Prairie's got that critical mass now where it can start to raise its own and train its own university graduates.- Marlin Schmidt, Minister of Advanced Education

"We've heard from everyone in this community how important it is for people to be able to finish their university degrees right here in Grande Prairie," Schmidt told reporters after the announcement.

"Too many people have to leave for Edmonton or Calgary or other places to complete their university degrees right now, and the problem with that is they never come back.

"This way, we can train our own people with university degrees right here in Grande Prairie and they'll stay here and help to build this community."

The move will allow Grande Prairie Regional College to cater to the needs of a changing workforce, Schmidt said. Students who are trained and educated in the city are more likely to remain and work in the surrounding region. The city itself has a population of more than 63,000.

"Grande Prairie's got that critical mass now where it can start to raise its own and train its own university graduates," Schmidt said.

"We won't have to import talent anymore, we can grow our own right here in Grande Prairie. And I think that will serve the community better."

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt made the announcement Thursday in Grande Prairie. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

The college's president, Don Gnatiuk, said work will begin in early March to develop degree programs in education, science and the arts.

"It's probably the proudest moment in my career at GPRC," Gnatiuk said. "The importance of this is to give our students, our families the opportunity to stay home and not have to leave."

Each degree program must be approved by the province before it can be offered at the college. Gnatiuk said he is optimistic he will watch graduates walk across a stage in Grande Prairie to accept their degrees within four years.

"It's going to allow us a little bit more freedom to actually put programming into place where we need it the most as a community," he said.

"This way we can self-determine what is important for our region and for the needs of our citizens."

More opportunities for students

Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, who sat on the college's executive board from 2009 to 2013, attended Thursday's announcement. 

Both her children left the Grande Prairie region to pursue other education opportunities."

"I'm so excited, I won't lie, I shed a tear this morning," McCuaig-Boyd said.

"When I came here in 2009, it was a dream well in its inception. I told Minister Schmidt several times that this is a real need in this area and it would be a huge thing for this region.

"It's going to provide an option for people who didn't have the option to go, who maybe had to interrupt their studies here and never go to university."

Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd says turning the Grande Prairie Regional College into a university will keep students in the region. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Students at the college have fought for years to be able to finish their educations in Grande Prairie, said Blaine Badiuk, the college's student association president.

"We wrote letters and we talked to the entire community to back us up, because this was needed for the region," Badiuk said.

The announcement came too late for Badiuk. He will be forced to leave his hometown to complete a degree in mathematics education, which he started at Grande Prairie Regional College. 

Many of his classmates can't afford to do the same, he said.

"Most students grew up here and they have the support systems from high school and now they can carry them through their post-secondary education," he said.

"To be able to stay at home and stay in the community would mean that we're probably going to stay and settle here as well, which would be huge for the community."

Two Alberta colleges, MacEwan in Edmonton and Mount Royal in Calgary, became accredited universities in 2009.



Zoe Todd

Video Journalist

Zoe Todd is a CBC video journalist based in Alberta, filing videos and stories for web, radio and TV.