As other schools struggle, Royal Roads University plans to add staff, programs

Lindsay Kines

Royal Roads University plans to add new programs and hire 30 more staff this year, even as other post-secondary schools struggle to eliminate deficits by cutting employees and reducing services.

The board of governors recently approved a budget that foresees a 12 per cent rise in enrolment of full-time domestic students in 2013-14, a seven per cent increase in faculty and staff and a $1.7-million investment in new programs.

The ambitious plans follow three years of sustained growth during which the number of full-time domestic students rose by 22 per cent to 2,500, the board says.

President Allan Cahoon said in an interview that Royal Roads faces the same government funding cuts as other colleges and universities. But the school, founded in 1995, benefits from a different academic, business and governance model that allows it to boost revenue by responding quickly to market demands for new courses, he said.

Targeted primarily at mid-career professionals, Royal Roads gets less money from the government than other schools, but can charge higher tuition. It delivers about 75 per cent of its courses through a “blended learning” model. Students, most of whom are pursuing graduate degrees, spend a couple of weeks on campus before heading back to their jobs and completing the course work online.

“It’s an efficient way of generating education and minimizing the costs of your delivery,” Cahoon said.

The administration keeps expenses to 95 per cent of revenue, which means the board expects Cahoon to post a $3-million surplus next year while still investing in new programs and adding staff. Tuition will go up two per cent.

Cahoon said the school has a small core faculty and can ramp up new programs quickly by hiring large numbers of associate professors.

“Other universities, if you have a tenured professor of X, you’re looking for courses and programs that have his or her expertise and designing around them,” he said. “We have a lot more flexibility.”

Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C., said Royal Roads’ model is no guarantee of success, noting the school struggled in the past when other institutions were doing better.

“The fact they’re doing well is a good thing, but it’s been a long row to hoe,” he said.

Clift said Royal Roads’ current good fortune might have more to do with its small size than the way it delivers education.

“They have faculty members who are committed to an entrepreneurial education model and so they make the programs work,” he said. “You can’t discount that. That’s not something that comes from the system; that comes from the individuals they’ve managed to recruit.”

Kenneth Christie, president of the Royal Roads University Faculty Association, said the school’s financial situation was much bleaker when he arrived about four years ago. “The situation has improved dramatically,” he said. “We’re not in the kind of debt that is plaguing a lot of universities at the moment.”