A recent change to a post-secondary grant in Alberta that supported students with dependents has led to concerns about access to education in the province.
The province recently announced that two existing grants — the Alberta Low-Income Grant and the Alberta Maintenance Grant — will be amalgamated into a new grant called the Alberta Student Grant for Full-Time Students. The government said the new grant will increase the number of students eligible.
Rowan Ley, the vice president external of the University of Alberta Students’ Union, said the maintenance grant (MG) was essential to students with dependents such as children, relatives with disabilities and elderly parents.
The new subsidy is limited to students in programs less than a year long, apprentice programs and grad students, leaving those in four-year university programs ineligible to apply.
Ley said those who remain eligible for the new grant will see financial support from the province cut in half. While the maintenance grant provided a maximum $3,000 per semester, the new grant is a maximum of $375 per month.
“We’ve heard from students with children who are part of our student parents on campus club who are very concerned about this change, some of whom are only able to come to university because of the maintenance grant,” Ley said.
In a statement to Global News, the press secretary for the minister of Advanced Education said the previous grants were not “well-targeted” and only 1,300 recipients of the maintenance grant were in four-year programs in 2018-19, while the majority of recipients were in one-year certificate programs.
“MG funding disproportionately benefited students at private career colleges, where these programs are more common,” Laurie Chandler said.
“Private career colleges have significantly higher tuition fees, meaning more of these students qualify for the MG. Since tuition is not subsidized, students at private career colleges also received more grant funding than students in similar programs at our public institutions. Almost half of all MG funding in 2018-19 – $20 million — went to students at private career colleges.”
Chandler said the change will see 6,400 more low-income Albertans eligible to receive the new grant of $375 per month. The previous low-income grant provided $250 per month.
“The new grant expands access to grants by covering gaps in students who were not previously eligible for either the Canada Student Grants or previous grants available through Alberta Student Aid. The new ASG will be available for certificate, graduate and apprenticeship programs, as well as students in open and general studies. The Canada Student Grants are available for diploma and undergraduate degree programs, which have been significantly increased.”
The NDP’s education critic said in order to build the economy, people need access to post-secondary education. David Eggen is urging the UCP to reconsider the change.
“If the money is insufficient so that people are choosing not to go to school, then the whole thing gets wiped out,” Eggen said. “To suggest that this is better is cynical and definitely deceitful.
“I think the UCP should take another look at this and make sure that we can get people retrained to build our economy, to make sure we have equity in education, everybody gets access to education regardless of what they have in their pocket.”
Ley said the grant changes, coupled with tuition increases, will make it difficult for those students to further their education.
“It would have been a bad time to eliminate the maintenance grant no matter what, but at a time when tuition is going up, it’s really kicking students with dependents when they’re down,” he said.
“This closes the door to universities to anyone who wasn’t born into money and we think that’s fundamentally unfair.”
Ley also hopes the UCP will reconsider the change, or consider a replacement that is accessible to all students who need the financial support.
With files from Nicole Stillger, Global News.