The Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) became a thing of the past on Jan. 17, as the Calgary post-secondary achieved university status.
The renamed Alberta University of the Arts (AUArts) celebrated the change in its main hall as a crowd of more than 200 staff, students, and supporters applauded.
“Great cities need great universities, and now we have another great university,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi told the gathering.
The change is nine years in the making, as AUArts president Daniel Doz first tried to apply for university status when he accepted the position in 2010.
“When he started years ago he asked the previous government but they wouldn’t entertain the discussion,” said Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt.
The official application went in four years ago, while schools like Red Deer College were vying for university status.
“It’s a recognition of all the work we’ve done but it’s an incentive to dream big,” said Doz.
Although the funding for ACAD was limited, due to a lack of student housing and parking lots, the provincial government has provided money to make the change work.
“We donated an official $4.6 million in 2015,” said Schmidt.
“So students have access to a modern learning facility, we have donated half a million dollars for this purpose.”
The change of status has also brought worry about tuition costs and changes to the curriculum.
“Our government brought in legislation that limits tuition increases, so they will only allow tuition increases that match cost of living increases,” said Schmidt.
“We’ll work with AUArts to make sure that we get…a high-quality education experience, at a cost that’s affordable for students.”
Amy Bouchard is an ACAD alumnus who now teaches ceramics at AUArts. She wondered about the funding and how it will be distributed.
“I hope the faculty gets compensated properly and fairly with the change,” said Bouchard.
She was also concerned that there would be significant changes to the curriculum, similar to when Mount Royal became a university.
“Change is inevitable and I have seen programs cut already,” said Bouchard.
“It’s sad because once a program is cut it will never come back.”
Despite the long wait and the limited funding for ACAD, AUArts seems to already be gaining notoriety.
“These kinds of investments in higher education and arts education is key to the future success of our province,” said Schmidt.
Doz had been trimming the budget every year because of the lack of outside revenue, but is relieved now that the college is a university.
“It clearly demonstrated a belief in us and our role because we have a very unique student population.
“Eighteen per cent of our students have at least one declared disability,” said Doz.
With the change of status, there will be an eventual change in curriculum, and students and alumni are looking forward to learning new skills.
“I hope to see AUArts keep growing in innovative ways that can send students into the world as critical creative thinkers along with a sense of business language and understanding,” said Bouchard.