Red River College eliminates 75 nursing school spots

A Manitoba college has sliced the number of new admissions into its registered nursing program by 75 seats due to rising operating costs and reduced provincial funding.

Enrolment in registered nursing program has been reduced from 225 students to 150, Manitoba college confirms

A large sign reading "Red River College" sits atop a glass-fronted building.
Red River College is reducing the number of new admissions into its registered nursing program by 75 seats. (CBC)

Red River College slashed this fall's admissions into its registered nursing program by 75 seats.

"We did change the capacity of the bachelor of nursing program from 225 to 150 seats annually," Red River's spokesperson Conor Lloyd wrote in an email to CBC News on Sunday.

This summer, the Manitoba college cut programs and laid off staff in order to cope with rising operating costs and reduced funding from the province.

At the time, the school announced that enrolment numbers would be reduced in numerous programs for fall 2018 — including the nursing, health care aide, business administration and pre-employment trades programs.

"With the approval from the province, we made a small adjustment to the number of seats [in nursing] with no HR impacts and no impact to students who are pursuing studies," Lloyd wrote.

"It is part of our routine operations to look at our programs and adjust capacities as required, to ensure that we're providing the right support to industry, while ensuring that we're operating our programs in a fiscally responsible manner, during a time when our province is in a climate of fiscal restraint."

"Our approach is to train and meet demands, and nursing, is no different than any other program we offer."

Red River College's 32-month nursing degree program, which is equivalent to four academic years, is offered in Winnipeg. This year, the college also extended the program to its regional campuses in Portage la Prairie and Winkler in response to industry demand, Lloyd said.

Graduates of the program receive a bachelor of nursing degree, and after passing a licensing exam, become a registered nurse in Manitoba.

Prospective students 'are going to miss out'

Paige Procter, 24, has been working as a nurse at the Children's Hospital in Winnipeg since graduating from Red River's registered nursing program in 2017.

She has mixed feelings about the changes.

"I think for the program itself, it'll be nice to have a smaller class … as a Red River grad I always appreciated having the smaller classrooms and having a more intimate relationship with your instructor and the class," she said.

"However, if I were applying now for the program, it's obviously going to be a lot more competitive and there's going to be a lot of people who would have made great nurses that might not even try applying because they don't think that they'll get in. So I think that that's a huge loss."

Procter said when she started the program in 2014, students were picked each year from a waiting list. She applied while she was still in high school and ended up as one of the youngest students in her class.

But while she was taking the program, the school changed its enrolment requirements to a merit-based system, Procter said — one where only students who had taken required prerequisites and met a required GPA were chosen.

The program was already tough to get into; she worries making it even more competitive may make older students wary to try.

"Because there was a waiting list and GPA didn't matter, we got a lot of mature students in my class … I think a lot of those mature students will be deterred from signing up," she said.

"I'm torn because I see it going in a positive direction in terms of being more selective … but it is disappointing that there are certain people that are going to miss out because of it."

Enrolment cuts will worsen nursing shortage: union

The Manitoba Nurses Union said it was aware of the "drastic reduction" in nursing seats, and is worried about the effect it will have in a province already facing a "chronic nursing shortage."

"Nurses are constantly being asked to do more with less, which is having widespread impacts on nursing recruitment and retention," said union president Darlene Jackson in an email.

"To limit the supply of nursing students at this time will only make the shortage worse. It is short-sighted and irresponsible."

Nursing is expected to be one of the top occupations for job openings in the province over the next six years, according to a 2018 labour market forecast report from the Manitoba government. The report expects a total of 5,400 job openings in nursing by 2024.

There's also expected to be a labour shortage for registered nurses in Canada over the next 10 years, according to the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada.

A 2017 report from the Canadian Institute of Health Information said the supply of regulated nurses in Manitoba has increased 15 per cent since 2008.


Marina von Stackelberg is a senior reporter at CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter and host in Winnipeg, with earlier stints in Halifax and Sudbury. Her stories regularly appear across the country on CBC Radio and CBC News Network. Connect with her by email at or on social media @CBCMarina.

With files from Shane Gibson