February 28, 2017 8:51 pm

NB defends student access to Tuition Access Bursary

New Brunswick’s “Tuition Access Bursary" program is under scrutiny following a twitter message showing the number of students who received free tuition is much lower than forecast. Adrienne South reports.

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The New Brunswick government is defending its Tuition Access Bursary (TAB) once again after a tweet by the Post Secondary Education Minister showed the number of students who were able to access the program fell below a estimate the government gave last year.

READ MORE: New Brunswick government defends Tuition Access Bursary

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Originally the government gave an estimate that 7,100 students would be “eligible” for the program, which provides free tuition to students from families that make less than $60,000 annually.

But according to a tweet by Minister Donald Arsenault, only 5,100 of 9,000 students who applied for financial assistance this school year to attend public universities and colleges received help from the TAB. The tweet was sent out by Arsenault shortly after the province’s announcement of a new program that could help a family making more than $60,000 pay up to 98 per cent of their child’s income based on family size and income.

The government says the TAB “is working.” In an email statement to Global News Tuesday, department spokesperson Jason Hoyt said that number still means 55 per cent received tuition assistance.

“This proves that the Free Tuition Program is working as it should to help those need it most obtain a post-secondary education,” he said.

Hoyt also said with the program only in its first year, the number of students who could be eligible for the program “could increase going forward.”

READ MORE: New Brunswick announces tuition assistance for middle class families

The Official Opposition however says the numbers keep changing and criteria for the program announced after the initial announcement creates added difficulty for students.

Progressive Conservative MLA Madeleine Dubé said there was more to the tuition program than just the application.

“This (program), again we see the students thinking they will be able to have free tuition, but yet one thing they didn’t announce in the past was that they were going to do a credit check and if they don’t have a good credit score, they won’t have access to the program,” said Dubé, who is also the post-secondary education critic.

She said as a result, students are left “disappointed.”

“The bottom line is that some students are left behind,” she said. “Some students are really disappointed. They were supposed to increase access. What they’ve done is they created hope and… a lot of people are disappointed.”

READ MORE: Credit check requirement could cost older, low-income students NB Tuition Access Bursary

But New Brunswick Student Alliance executive director Robert Burroughs told Global News that from their understanding, the 7,100 number was never a target and the post-secondary community “has never been working under the assumption that there was a target for TAB.”

He said he’s unsure how the government arrived at that estimate, but the number of students who did receive a bursary is no surprise.

“I don’t think that would be a shock to anyone in the post-secondary community either,” Burroughs said.

With the program still in its first year, he said the province can use this year to establish benchmarks.

READ MORE: N.B. government in talks with private colleges over Tuition Access Bursary inclusion

“Until we know uptake it’s hard to determine the efficiency of a program and we’ve (NBSA) also said as well, we likely won’t see real comparable and measurable results until year two or three – so that’s a number of years out,” he said.

He also said going forward he’d like to see more technical details about the tuition assistance programs.

“Right now you must access a loan in order to be eligible for the TAB or for this new tuition relief … Is there a way that you can access grants without necessarily having to touch the loan programs?” he said.

Dubé added the Tories will be asking questions in the legislature about the tuition programs.

“We’re going to try to understand what exactly they’re doing, why they’re doing it and why certainly they’re leaving these students behind,” she said.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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