Future looks bright for U of L, SACPA told
Students still come first, says U of L president
Faculties of engineering, medicine or law could become part of a growing University of Lethbridge. More international students may be attracted as well, adding to the cultural mosaic on campus and in the city.
U of L president Mike Mahon says he expects enrolment will continue to grow in coming years, but the U of L wants to continue offering students the many advantages of being part of a smaller, student-focused institution.
Students’ experiences here are “remarkably different” from life at a major university with 50,000 or more on campus, he told a 50th anniversary session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.
The university’s support for SACPA is just one of the impacts it’s made in Lethbridge since classes began in 1967, the president pointed out. Had the provincial government rejected plans for a third university — or insisted it be built east of the river — Mahon suggested Lethbridge would be far different community than what it’s become today.
“A whole lot of young people would have left,” he said, with few of them returning. And Lethbridge would not have become a second home for many of the 40,000 men and women who’ve graduated from the U of L over the decades.
The university’s economic impacts today, he said, include about 3,450 jobs, directly or closely related. But the university has also added much to the city’s cultural life. And once the $280-million Destination science centre opens, he said families as well as students in junior and senior high grades will be invited to take part in ongoing science-related events.
For concert and drama fans, meanwhile, Mahon said university officials are working on plans to make their fine arts venues more accessible to members of the public — and their vehicles.
The U of L is also planning to redevelop areas of University Hall that will be vacated when the science building opens, he said. More gallery space for the university’s major art collection is being considered, as well as a large First Nations gathering space.
While the university has reaffirmed its commitment to a liberal education, Mahon said, it’s also contemplating new faculties over the coming years. Some, like medicine, could build on the foundation of programs already well-established here.
“These are exciting things to contemplate.”
Based on reports from Eastern Canada, Mahon said he does not expect to see dramatic growth in enrolment. While numbers are dropping in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, he noted Alberta’s universities are still facing greater demand.
“Will we be pushed to grow and evolve?”
Probably not, but an enrolment of 11,000 might be the “sweet spot” with a balance between program options and workable studentfaculty ratios.
Unlike colleges and universities in the U.S., Mahon said Canadian institutions are reasonably wellsupported by provincial and federal governments. To keep students’ fees from rising, he said, Albertans should tell elected leaders they want that support to continue.
To help celebrate its 50 years, the president added, the university is inviting the community to its “Shine On” events at the start of September.
“There will be something for everyone,”
Mike Mahon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Lethbridge, spoke about the university's past, present and future challenges and opportunities during Thursday's SACPA session.