David Marshall wants to accomplish at Calgary’s Mount Royal College what he has already done once as a post-secondary administrator. He wants to create a university.
Marshall, the president of Mount Royal and the early 1990s architect of Nipissing University’s transition from college to university, says that Mount Royal has gone a long way to completing the transition to university since it commenced the process five years ago.
More than 80 per cent of its students next fall will be pursuing bachelor’s degrees. In fact, Mount Royal will offer more degrees than several other Canadian universities. Still, it remains a college.
“The one thing that we haven’t had major discussion on … between our board and the government is the issue of label,” Marshall said. “Everything else is done; why isn’t the label coming with it?”
Rachel Bouska, a spokesperson for Alberta’s ministry of advanced education and technology, said that whether or not Mount Royal remains a college or is designated a university is not the issue
“We really do support and commend Mount Royal offering baccalaureate degrees that fit the needs of its learners,” she said. “It’s not so much about what you call yourself, but what service you are offering … and being the best institution you can be.”
Bouska added that Mount Royal is “filling a demand in the system,” and the provincial government supports that.
The question some — including the editorial board of the Calgary Herald — are now asking is: does Alberta need a fourth university?
The Herald pointed to a low post-secondary participation rate and high entrance grades as warning signs that Albertans will not be ready for the challenges they will face in a post-oil economy. The paper called on the government to recognize Mount Royal’s efforts to move towards a full-fledged university.
Marshall was “surprised” by the editorial, but he said the Herald got it right. His school, he suggested, would open up a university education to students who cannot achieve the averages necessary to enter other Alberta universities that have limited spaces.
“I think the broader social issue is ensuring that every capable student has the opportunity to choose the post-secondary route that is the one that they envision being part of their life,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with any particular institution having high cut-off averages. It’s wrong if there is no choice (for students). If it means that a student that doesn’t meet that is left out in the cold, then that is wrong.”
Students at Mount Royal are on board with the transition from college to university.
“I think it is a very positive step for Calgary as a city and also for the students of Calgary,” said Matt Koczkur, the vice-president external of the Student Association of Mount Royal College. “We need to change the name to reflect the reality that is at Mount Royal now—and that is university-level education.”
Koczkur said that students are excited about the prospect of completing four-year degrees at what he called “a new kind of university,” where the focus is on instruction.
“(We want to) make sure that professors who are engaged in scholarship and research are using that experience to be funnelled directly back into the classroom experience,” he said.
Alberta minister of advanced education Doug Horner was unavailable for comment.
Update: Athabasca U wrote to remind us that, if and when Mount Royal becomes a university it will not be, strictly speaking, Alberta’s fourth university. Athabasca—an institution that specializes in online distance education rather than traditional, full-time, campus-based education and whose courses are open to anyone over the age of 16—is an AUCC member and has enjoyed university status since 1970.