New policy puts price tag on adult education

Tuition to be charged for adult basic education next year, but not everyone agrees

Students hoping to upgrade their high school courses at TRU will have to open up their chequebooks come September. The formerly free adult basic education (ABE) courses will cost up to $1,600 a semester, according to TRU administration.

“We need to recover the cost it takes to provide the program,” said TRU vice-president of advancement, Christopher Seguin.

ABE in British Columbia has been tuition-free since 2008. Last December however, the provincial government announced that post-secondary institutions could start charging for upgrading programs. At the same time, funding for individual student grants increased to $7.6 million a year, a 33 per cent jump.

According to Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson, the new policy will make ABE programs more sustainable for universities while still providing aid to low-income students.

“Low-income students will be eligible for upfront, non-repayable grants to cover the cost of their tuition and other education-related expenses such as supplies, textbooks, transportation and childcare,” Wilkinson said in an email to The Omega.

The provincial government has also committed $6.9 million to help institutions make the transition from tuition-free ABE. Despite an increase in individual grants, critics of the new policy have warned that charging tuition for ABE might dissuade enrolment in ABE. The Canadian Federation of Students (of which TRUSU is a member) has officially protested the policy, pointing to a sudden decline of ABE enrolment following the introduction of tuition in 2002.

According to data provided by TRUSU, ABE enrolment at TRU fell by 31 per cent in the two years after ABE tuition began to be charged in 2002. ABE enrolment began to rise again after 2008, but as of 2010 had yet to reach its pre-2002 levels.

Seguin would not comment on whether the new tuition charges would decrease ABE enrolment at TRU, saying only that they would have to wait to see how the numbers played out come September.

He stressed, however, that ABE is a valuable part of TRU.

“These people are re-engaging with their learning process, and many of them go on to [post-secondary] training in traditional academics, in trades and dozens of other pathways, so adult basic education is important to us and we want to do it well,” he said.

The majority of respondents to TRUSU’s recent student budget consultation were also against the new policy. Just over 66 per cent of respondents said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” to the following statement: “TRU should allocate all necessary resources to continue to offer ABE courses tuition-free, keeping in mind that TRU has limited resources to allocate amongst programs and services you may access.”

According to Seguin, the December decision meant TRU could have begun charging tuition already this semester, but the university wanted to give students a chance to adjust to the new policy.

“We tried to think of the people that may be affected who were making plans to take these programs in summer and we wanted to respect their path and empower them, but this gives people time to plan for the realities that now present themselves,” he said.

TRU’s new ABE tuition policy will be finalized over the summer.