Advocates fear what loss of education grant will mean for students with children

The Alberta government has scrapped a pair of financial supports for post-secondary students, by bringing them into another more general grant. But some students are worried this new system will be less accessible, and that they didn't receive enough consultation before this change was made.

Alberta's Maintenance grant was quietly amalgamated last month into another financial support

See U of A crest on a building exterior. Stocks.
New University of Alberta students, along with other university and college students around the province, will no longer be able to access the maintenance grant for those with financial dependents. (David Bajer/CBC)

The Alberta government's decision to scrap two financial support grants in favour of a more general grant could make post-secondary education less accessible for students with children or other dependents, advocates say. 

In late June, the provincial government announced the Alberta Low-Income grant and the Alberta Maintenance grant —for students that are financially responsible for a child, parent or partner — would be amalgamated into the Alberta Student Grant for Full-Time Students. The province said this move results in the same amount of grant funding. 

"We are taking the same amount of provincial grant funding that was available last year and using it to reach more students (6,400 more), some of whom were not previously eligible at all," said Laurie Chandler, spokesperson for Alberta's minister of advanced education, in an email.

But Rowan Ley, chairperson of the Council of Alberta University Students, said the loss of the maintenance grant will make it more difficult for some people hoping to study in Alberta.

"Universities are for everyone, and this puts up to barriers to thousands of students with young children, elderly relatives or disabled relatives," said Ley who is vice-president external of the University of Alberta Students' Union.

Unlike the lost maintenance grant, the new merged grant isn't available to students in four-year programs. It also offers less money for students, up to $1,500 per semester, compared to the $3,000 per semester the maintenance grant offered.

But the province's Ministry of Advanced Education argues there's been no decrease in total student aid funding, stating that the new system offers more money than the previous Low-Income Grant did, and that more students are eligible under this new system, like graduate students and apprentices.

The ministry also pointed out that students with dependents can still access federal grants.

Ley said he was frustrated that both CAUS and the U of A's SU found out about this change from reading a post on Reddit. He said typically changes this major would come with consultation and be communicated differently.

"I think students have a lot of input that we can offer on decisions like this," Ley said. "Students who have actually been using these programs are constituents of student groups and providing their input means we can provide programs that work better for students. 

"When the government doesn't talk to us, we can't provide that input."

For Sarah Christensen, the Maintenance grant helped her access post-secondary studies more than a decade ago.

Christensen, who was interviewed on CBC Radio Active on Monday, was a student from 2008 to 2013. She studied first at Lethbridge College before transferring to the University of Lethbridge, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She was a single parent with two children when she began her studies.

She said the financial aid she received let her know she could provide opportunities for her children, helped ensure she could buy clothing for them and help them pursue interests like guitar and piano lessons.

This financial aid shouldn't be taken away from single parents, Christensen said. She argued it should continue to help parents manage the financial responsibility of going back to school. She said parents may struggle with debt if they turn to student loans.

"It's going to be setting them up for failure rather than setting them up for success down the road," Christensen said.