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'Caught off guard': Low-income students in Alberta scramble to go back to school with lower grants

Some students are scrambling to find extra loans and adjust their personal spending, after the Alberta government announced in late July it would clip the amount of monthly funding received through its student grant program.

Alberta government lowering monthly full-time student grant funding from $375 max to $250

Funding for the Alberta student grant was maintained at $54.4 million, but income eligibility thresholds changed in a way that, essentially, prevents students from middle-income families from benefitting. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some students are scrambling to find extra loans and adjust their personal spending, after the Alberta government announced in late July it would clip the amount of monthly funding received through its full-time student grant program.

New budget allocations mean the income thresholds to be eligible for the Alberta Student Grant for Full-Time Students have changed. The Alberta government says this allows more low-income students to tap into funding.

But as a result, students will receive less money per month than they did a year ago. Last year's monthly maximum was $375, but that was clipped by one third to $250 this coming school year.

"Students have been caught off guard by the lack of communication about these cuts to the funding that they are receiving," said Samantha Scott, a chair for the Council of Alberta University Students.

"Given the unprecedented rate of inflation and the current affordability crisis students are already facing, this has increased the struggle."

Some students may be forced to drop out of school altogether because of the funding change, Scott added.

Samantha Scott, a chair for the Council of Alberta University Students, says students are struggling as they already face an unprecedented rate of inflation and affordability crisis. (Submitted by Samantha Scott)

"It's really pitting low-income individuals against each other," she said.

Funding for the grant was maintained at $54.4 million, but income eligibility thresholds changed in a way that, essentially, prevents students from middle-income families from benefitting.

Last academic year, a student could receive at least some money through the grant, if their family was of a certain size and made within a certain amount of income, Sam Blackett, press secretary for Alberta Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides, told CBC News in an email.

A student from a one-child family, for example, would have been eligible for the maximum grant if the family earned $32,102 or less, but they would have still been eligible for the grant if their family made no more than $63,615.

There is no income range this coming academic year, however.

Students from a one-child family, for example, can only qualify for the grant if their family's income is $33,180 or less.

The changes aim to ensure that money from the grant is available to a greater number of people who need it most, Blackett said.

The University of Alberta Students' Union is upset about the government's decision, particularly the lack of notice, said president Abner Monteiro.

"We're not even getting any notice that these changes are being made, so students can't plan ahead for their semester," Monteiro said.

The change also makes the cost of living more unaffordable for low- and middle-income families, amid rising inflation and ongoing tuition hikes, Monteiro added.

'Quite a shock'

University of Alberta student Montana Bobinski will enter his third year of full-time graduate studies this fall.

In the past two years, Bobinski was awarded $4,500 to help pay for his tuition. This year, however, he will only get $2,000 in grants from the Alberta government.

University of Alberta student Montana Bobinski says loans and grants are his only real options to make extra money. (Submitted by Montana Bobinski)

"It was quite a shock," said Bobinski, who's earning a master of science degree.

He applied for the Alberta Student Grant for Full-Time Students immediately after applications opened in late June.

On July 26, Bobinski got a letter from Alberta Student Aid saying the maximum funding per student would be cut by $125 a month this year.

"I can't reduce my graduate schooling. This is a great cut to me, and especially to other students who are probably in more desperate financial circumstances," he said.

At some universities, graduate students are also discouraged from picking up part-time jobs by their faculty, he said.

The University of Alberta limits full-time graduate students to 12 hours of on-campus work each week, and part-time jobs with other companies are frowned upon, Bobinski explained, adding that loans and grants are his only real options to make extra money.

"There's very little room in my budget now every month for extra purchases besides necessities," Bobinski said. "If I have a costly emergency, I'm gonna have to dig into my savings to pay for that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Wdowczyk

CBC Edmonton News Scholar

Anna Wdowczyk is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She can be reached at anna.wdowczyk@cbc.ca.

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