School is back in session and for some adult students, this is the last semester they will be able to attend upgrading courses tuition-free.
Last year, the Ministry of Advanced Education gave institutions the option to start charging tuition as of January 1, 2015, but the College of the Rockies decided to implement that policy for January 2016.
Since 2008, adult upgrading was offered tuition-free at the college, where students were responsible for additional costs, including books and supplies.
Kevin Szol, department head of the adult upgrading program at the college, said since the tuition-free program came into play, “hundreds if not thousands” of adults have taken advantage of the program.
While Szol was unable to provide details of how many of those students successfully completed the program, he did say the students who went through the upgrading programs have done well for themselves.
“I do know that our adult upgrading students have done very well in progressing through to other programs of training.”
The alternative to the tuition-free model the provincial government has introduced now offers grants students can apply for, and if they meet the proper criteria, they are eligible for part or all of their tuition to be covered, along with other expenses associated with going to school.
“Now what this has done is, instead of the government just giving the colleges some money to be able to deliver adult upgrading what they’ve done is they’ve taken that money and they’ve put it into these grants,” Szol said.
This year, the college received one-time money from the government to help with the transition of moving to a different tuition model, he said.
“But we are actually subsidizing it ourselves. That’s something that we can’t continue to do because it’s not viable – so at the end of the day, tuition fees are an eventuality.”
Szol said that for those who need the program, he doesn’t believe the grant model will deter students, but did say he believes the tuition-free model encouraged a lot of students to take advantage of the program.
“Personally I believe that because it’s been tuition-free to the student up front – it’s always been paid by the government in one way or another – but because of the tuition model the way it was, I sincerely believe that it was easier for students to come to school.”
Andrew Wilkinson, minister of advanced education for the province, said there is an extensive grant program available for eligible students that cover between half and all of the costs, including tuition, books, supplies and in some cases, childcare.
“They get complete coverage for tuition and fees and associated costs if their individual income is below $23,600, and up to $26,000 they get 50 per cent coverage,” he told The Free Press, adding a student with a family of three with a household income of up to $36,200 can also apply for full coverage (including daycare) and for incomes above that up to $40,000 the student can receive a grant that covers half of the costs.
The minister said a reason to change to the grant structure is to ensure students of low-income households have access to the programs at no charge and said when institutions have a free program, “people will come and go from the program”.
“When they’re paying a small amount of tuition and when they’re above the income threshold, they’re more inclined to complete the course,” he said, adding he said, adding free programs have higher dropout rates. “That’s always the case with free programs. It’s the case in European universities it’s the case with every free program.”
The upgrading program is for those who have already completed high school who want to upgrade their grades, he said.
“Anyone who has not completed high school can get this for free regardless of their income in the K-12 system.”
For more information about upgrading programs or to find out about the grant application process, visit cotr.ca/abe.