PLLC Isn’t Financially Sustainable According to External Report

A recent report on the Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC) reveals the significant funding issues facing the program.

The report, written by Peter MacKinnon in February 2017, was publically released on The Quad, the University of Alberta’s admin-run blog. MacKinnon, who was the president of the University of Saskatchewan from 1999 to 2012, praised the nature and quality of the PLLC’s programming, but was critical of its future, reporting that “as seen from 2016, the college is not sustainable.”

Launched in September 2015, the PLLC is a two-year academic program where students take leadership courses and earn a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies. It aims to accept 125 students a year, and its first cohort of 45 students are set to graduate this year.

Money problems

MacKinnon found that while the financial commitment from the Government of Alberta of $70 million over 10 years has been realized, matching federal grants and philanthropic support are not in sight. As the report explains, the anticipated money from the federal and provincial government, and money from donors, was supposed to be part of an endowment to support the college in the future.

MacKinnon also reported that the provincial funds going towards the college might be used up before the end of the 10-year commitment because they are being spent at a fast rate. He added that “continuing operations are in jeopardy unless new sources of revenue are confirmed.”

U of A President David Turpin told The Gateway that by having this report done early in the program’s existence, the university has time to consider other financial options as there are enough funds to last until 2025.

“There are going to be a whole series of things to think and talk about over the coming years,” Turpin said. “Because we got the money that is projected to flow until the middle part of the next decade, it gives us a great deal of time to figure out how to make the college sustainable in the long term.”

While Turpin is optimistic about stabilizing the collage’s financial situation, former 2015-16 Students’ Union Vice-President (Operations and Finance) Cody Bondarchuk doesn’t believe that will be possible.

“There have been a number of opportunities where the university could have looked at their criticism and figured out how to restructure the program to be better,” he said. “Honestly I think now it’s just a question of when the program will fold.”

Peter Lougheed Hall

Another weakness MacKinnon addresses in his report is the unlikelihood that the college’s new residence on the northeast corner of North Campus, Peter Lougheed Hall (PLH), will see half of its 143 spaces occupied by PLLC students when it opens this fall. The rent per person for a two-bedroom space in the hall is $1,948 per month, including a mandatory all-you-can-eat meal plan. A one-bedroom room costs $2,075 monthly.

MacKinnon suggested the residence use the $5,000 award given to each PLLC student as a credit towards fees at the hall. The award currently is used for a “stretch experience,” which is a component of the PLLC where students must complete 200 hours of paid or volunteer leadership activities.

In a draft response to the report, Martin Ferguson-Pell, Vice-Principal of the PLLC, disagreed with MacKinnon’s recommendation, arguing it would create access issues for students. Since the stretch experience’s 200 hours can involve unpaid work, the $5,000 award is meant to offset the opportunity cost.

However, Bondarchuk says that MacKinnon’s recommendation makes sense.

“There should be some funding for stretch experience,” he said. “It should be contingent on what each individual student is actually doing. Some of the students are flexing their leadership to go work at places that will pay them, and then they’re getting a check from the Leadership College for nothing. It shouldn’t be everybody getting that $5,000.”

Who to report to

MacKinnon’s report also mentions the PLLC’s accountability. Currently, the PLLC’s administration reports to the university’s President and not the Office of the Provost like other academic programs.

“Reporting to the president’s office means there is little accountability,” Bondarchuk said. “The president only reports to the Board of Governors which is really only concerned with financial matters, not academic.”

Trupin agreed with MacKinnon’s recommendation that the PLLC should report to the Office of the Provost and said it’s something he plans on looking at.

Despite the challenges laid out in the report, Turpin said he feels positively about the college’s outlook and said the report’s feedback will be helpful in sustaining the PLLC.

“What (the report) says is that this is a great program,” he said. “It says that students are enjoying it, that it’s unique in the Canadian context, and that it’s never too early to start thinking what we should do in the long term to sustain this unique leadership initiative.”

PLLC External Review 2017

Nathan Fung

Nathan Fung is a sixth-year political science student and The Gateway's news editor for the 2018-19 year. He can usually be found in the Gateway office, turning coffee into copy.


  1. lol PLLC is full of people like kate. cant believe they actually think they are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. what a pathetic bunch

  2. The rent for half of a two bedroom unit in the PLLC is more than my entire home mortgage payment! Even with a meal plan, that seems like… not a great deal for students.

    The PLLC is a splendid example of something that is touted by university administrators as a money-attractor but in fact turns out to be a giant money pit. Christopher Newfield’s new book _The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them_ is really good on this phenomenon, which is in no way exclusive to the U of A.

  3. The $5000 is not awarded to students receiving remuneration for their stretch experience. Some PLLC students, including myself, were not awarded this scholarship for this reason, while others received a larger, $6000 scholarship to support an unpaid stretch experience. In my opinion, careful consideration has gone into what can be classified as a stretch experience or not, and it is not the case that the college just throws money at their students simply because they have been labeled as “leaders.”

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