The mayor of Grande Prairie says the provincial government's plan to transition Grande Prairie Regional College into a polytechnic institution will benefit the greater community.
"We're very excited to see the continued growth and the positive impact that this is sure to have in our community in the decades ahead," Jackie Clayton said in an interview Friday.
"Generally, we're very excited because of the fact that this is a great opportunity to train and retain talent in our region and into our community from across many different industries and sectors — it's fantastic."
The mayor of the city of 63,000 people, 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, said the college has been a key institution in the region for decades.
Earlier this week, the province announced the college would receive polytechnic status under the Post-Secondary Learning Act. Red Deer College will also become a polytechnic, the government said earlier in May.
Polytechnic status allows institutions to offer apprenticeship education along with degree, diploma and certificate programs.
"This change provides degree-granting status to GPRC — long an aspiration of our institution," acting college president Glenn Feltham said in a news release.
"It affirms the importance of skilled trades and apprenticeship as part of our educational model. It empowers us to expand our program offerings to better meet the needs of learners and our community."
The move comes after uncertainty about whether or not the transition to university status — announced in 2018 by the previous NDP government — would proceed.
The UCP government decided a polytechnic model would best serve the needs of the region.
"The decision to transition Grande Prairie Regional College into a polytechnic institution was made in consultation with students and staff," Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said in a statement to CBC.
"This move will ensure students can meet their educational needs right in their own community and will help ensure the local economy has access to the talented workforce it needs to prosper."
While attaining polytechnic status does not allow for GPRC to offer graduate level programs offered by universities, it does give the institution the ability to grant degrees, and retain its trades and apprenticeship programming at the same time.
Jon Bilodeau, executive director of the Alberta Students' Executive Council, said both GPRC and Red Deer College will benefit from the transition.
"Being in central and northern Alberta, those two institutions are very pivotal for … skilled trades and apprenticeship education in the province," Bilodeau said in an interview.
"Neither institution nor the students' associations wanted to lose those students and wanted to lose that programming in their communities."
'Brain drain' an issue
Bilodeau said without a post-secondary institution with degree-granting status within the region, many students leave the community to pursue their education in Edmonton, creating a "brain drain" out of Grande Prairie.
"Northern Alberta communities have the lowest post-secondary uptake, not just in the province, but nationally [it's] well below average. And they have a lot of issues with economic diversification and economic recovery," he said.
"By keeping local talent … in the local communities, it actually helps develop the skills that make them richer and fuller."
Clayton said providing young people the opportunity to receive their education within the community is important for the future of Grande Prairie.
"Retaining and keeping our youth in our community is a vital key to future growth and future opportunities," the mayor said.
"Now with a polytechnic, it makes sense because it offers trades, diplomas, degrees and continuing education certification, which will support every student in every stage of their career."