Adult Basic Education costs rise, enrolment drops since privatization

New documents show that that tuition and operating costs of Adult Basic Education have spiked since Newfoundland and Labrador privatized the program in 2013, while student enrolment fell by nearly 30 per cent.

Gerry Byrne says government already reviewing ABE programs

Adult Basic Education was previously offered through College of the North Atlantic until government cuts in 2013. (CBC)

New documents show that tuition and operating costs of Adult Basic Education have spiked since Newfoundland and Labrador privatized the program in 2013, while student enrolment fell by nearly 30 per cent.

The cost of operating ABE rose by roughly 31 per cent since 2013-2014, according to Access to Information documents, rising from $7,589,468 to $10,003,383 in 2015-2016.

The average cost of tuition went up by 88 per cent, from $3,342 to $6,287 per year.

Enrolment fell by nearly 30 per cent in the same time frame and graduate rates dropped by more than half. 

Adult Basic Education is a high school equivalency program for adults in Newfoundland and Labrador. (iStockphoto)

ABE, a high school equivalency program for adults, was previously offered by the province's public college system, College of the North Atlantic.

The provincial government handed it to the private sector in 2013, citing a low graduation rate and high costs.

Students and faculty at College of the North Atlantic, as well as NAPE, protested the cuts at the time.

Student group calls private ABE a 'failure'

The provincial chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students called ABE a "failed experiment in privatization," in a news release issued Wednesday, 

"This information shows that this anger and frustration really was justified," said Travis Perry, chairperson of the provincial CFS.

Travis Perry, provincial chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, says ABE students are getting fewer services for more money in the private system. (CBC)

"In a time when many people will be going back for retraining and upgrading in this difficult economic time, I think this really should be a lesson to the current government that investment in a public college system is incredibly important to Newfoundland and Labrador."

Perry said that in the private system, students do not receive supports like guidance counselling, child care, and a library.

"'Students are essentially paying more for less in this education system," he said.

"When you look at the private model, much of the money that goes in goes towards padding pockets of private industry rather than those support services."

Perry said the federation has heard from many students who have financial concerns because of the higher tuition fees. 

He said he hopes that the government will change ABE back to a public program.

Government reviewing ABE

Gerry Byrne, minister of Advanced Education and Skills, said that the government already has a review underway of the ABE program. He said that a privatized ABE system is costing government more than the Progressive Conservatives thought it would.

In the legislature Wednesday, Byrne criticized the previous government for not doing enough research before the program was privatized.

"I think they thought to themselves that there would be a significant cost reduction," he said. 

The Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour says the province is going to be increasing minimum wage. (CBC)

"The program is indeed more expensive than what was originally forecasted, or at least advertised," Byrne told CBC News.

"What we know is that there are clear problems, not necessarily with the delivery of the program itself in the classroom, but with the delivery of the program in its early onset."

Byrne said the contracts for privatized ABE programs expire at the end of March. He said those contracts will likely be renewed, at least for a short period, to ensure continuity in services.

In 2013, the province said it cost $5,000 more per student to provide ABE at CNA than it would at a private institution.

About the Author

Laura Howells

CBC News

Laura Howells is a journalist from St. John's who's now working in Toronto.

With files from Katie Breen

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