Changes to tuition bursary program mean more students will get less money
Renewed tuition bursary program will now be accessible to students in private institutions
The New Brunswick government is changing the tuition bursary program to give more students access to financial aid, even if it means each student gets less.
The renewed tuition bursary program will now be accessible to students attending private institutions in the province, but there's no new money coming into the program.
Depending on the student's income and tuition costs, some students may get less than they previously would under the free tuition and tuition relief for the middle class programs.
The maximum amount a student can receive from the program would be capped at $3,000.
'Levelling' the field
Trevor Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, said the previous program left students at private institutions behind.
"We are levelling the playing field, by extending previous programs to students attending private institutions so more New Brunswickers can benefit from this program," Holder said.
All students eligible under the existing program will be eligible under the revised program.
The government estimates 9,500 New Brunswick students will be eligible for the program for the 2019-20 year, up from 7,800 last year.
Critics of the change say it just stretches the same $19.2 million budget thinner.
Liberal MLA Guy Arseneault said the change in bursary amounts will make a difference in ridings such as his, Campbellton-Dalhousie, where the child poverty rate is 37 per cent.
"Where are they going to get the money to go to university, go to college?" he asked.
Reintroducing the tax credit
The government is also reintroducing the New Brunswick tuition tax credit and eliminated the timely completion benefit, which only benefited 281 students at a cost of $3.3 million last year.
That money will instead be moved to help pay for the tax credit.
The average provincial payout under the previous program was $2,200. That amount will drop to about $1,700 under the new program, Holder said.
"We feel that with bringing the tax credit in there will be more than ample ability to offset that."
Arseneault disagreed, asking why that money wasn't moved into the tuition bursary program instead.
"I think the free tuition program is out the window," he said. "They've tinkered with it but they've not added more money, which is very disappointing.
He said students told government they preferred a program where they got money upfront instead of a tax credit.
The New Brunswick Student Alliance says the changes the government made are not what students need.
Emily Blue, the executive director of the alliance, said rather than include students who go to private institutions, the bursary program would help more low-income students if it were applied to those studying part time.
She said the province still lacks a debt relief program, which students will need more than ever if they are making up the difference in the bursary amount with loans.
"A tuition tax credit is not a debt relief program," Blue said.
Blue said the alliance also has concerns about private institutions being indirectly funded by public money when they don't necessarily follow the same regulations public ones do.
"If these institutions are going to be included they need to be held to the same standard as our public institutions."
The changes also raise concerns about increased financial strain on low-income students who relied on free tuition.
"Some students will certainly be paying out of pocket who weren't previously," Blue said.
"That may make it very difficult for some students to return to finish studies in the fall."
Students whose education costs were previously covered won't be grandfathered in, meaning some will have to complete their degrees at an unexpected cost.
Too soon to change?
Arseneault also criticized the government for altering the programs before a review was complete.
The free tuition program and the tuition relief for middle class families were only three and two years old, respectively.
"They didn't give it time, they should have waited for the full cohort to go through," Arseneault said.
Holder maintained that the government isn't getting rid of the program but changing it to make it more accessible.
"This idea that the Liberals are out and the Conservatives are in and you scrap a program — New Brunswickers are tired of that Ping-Pong game, and quite frankly that's why we are leaving this program in place," he said.
Darcie Robichaud, president and owner of Oulton College, said the announcement is great news for students at her private school, and she sees it as a positive step.
"Make it fair for the student, give the student the money so they can choose where they want to do their post-secondary education."