The new Chilliwack campus of the University of the Fraser Valley opened its doors to about 2,700 students last week, aided by an additional $2.4 million capital grant from the B.C. government.
But government funding on the operational side has not kept pace with student demand in the Fraser Valley, one of the fastest-growing regions in the province.
“The funding we need is not only for capital projects, it’s also for our programs and studies,” said Dr. Eric Davis, UFV’s provost and vice-president.
He said UFV’s new campus in Chilliwack opened last week at 105 percent of its capacity — “that’s five percent more students that we’re funded for.”
The Abbotsford campus is operating at 130 percent of its capacity, he said.
UFV gets half its funding from the B.C. government, one quarter from student tuition and the remaining quarter from donations and commercial partnerships.
“We try to make up that other 25 percent, but we’re stretched to capacity,” Davis said.
Because the university’s costs increase each year from inflation, he said, “either we bring in more money or we get smaller” by cutting back student programs.
But that flies in the face of student demand for post-secondary education in the Fraser Valley, one of the fastest-growing regions in the province.
“We can’t keep up with the demand,” Davis said, and there are growing waitlists for courses.
Students who can’t get into the courses they need take longer to graduate and their cost of education goes up.
The B.C. government says taxpayers are providing $55 million to UFV operations this year, up from $35 million in 2001-02, and the number of funded student spaces has increased 35 percent since 2003-04. The government has invested a total $1.9 billion in post-secondary education this year.
But Davis said universities and colleges across B.C. have “tough choices” to make in how to spend a limited amount of government funding.
He said UFV has two budget priorities — providing students with the best undergraduate education possible, and providing the community with an economic and educational partner.
“When we do our budgeting, when we do our education planning, it’s with these two priorities in mind,” he said.
In March, the B.C. government announced a $70-million cut to its post-secondary education budget over the next three years, which it claimed universities could make up by trimming administrative spending.
However, university officials, including UFV president Mark Evered, worried that in fact student programs or student admissions would need to be cut as a result.
The $2.4 million in capital funding announced last week is going toward upgrades at both the Chilliwack and Abbotsford campus and replacing the roof of the Trades and Technology Centre.
UFV also announced a short-term training program in the region with one-time funding of $457,000 from the B.C. government.
UFV expects to create up to 44 seats in a variety of trades-releated fields over the coming year, including welding and skills upgrade programs that will focus on trades and agriculture.