Tuition rebate unknown to many Sask. newcomers

A Saskatchewan program aimed attracting young people to the province with a tax break on their schooling is something many newcomers say they knew nothing about, until they filed their taxes.

Many out-of-province graduates working in Saskatchewan unaware of incentive program

About 50,000 graduates, most from post-secondary schools in Saskatchewan, are currently taking part in the government's tuition rebate program. (CBC)
Briana Bolduc, a graduate of a college in Brandon, was pleasantly surprised to learn her Manitoba tuition qualifies for a Saskatchewan rebate -- so long as she stays. (CBC)
Some recent arrivals to Saskatchewan say they are getting a pleasant surprise this tax season: thousands of dollars in tuition fee rebates thanks to a provincial program they knew nothing about.

The arrivals, from across Canada, are recent graduates of universities in their home provinces. But they have learned they qualify for a tax credit, or fee rebate, under provisions of Saskatchewan's Graduate Retention Program.

I didn't think that a province would pay for an out-of-province graduate to stay.- Briana Bolduc

One of the happy recipients is Briana Bolduc, who moved to Regina three and a half years ago from Brandon, Manitoba.

"I did not know about it until this past summer," Bolduc told CBC News in a recent interview. "I don't even know how I found out about it. I didn't think that a province would pay for an out-of-province graduate to stay."

But Bolduc, who has a business diploma from a community college in Brandon, learned she qualifies for a total rebate of around $4,000.

She said she has told two other friends from Manitoba who are also now in Saskatchewan and were also unaware of the program.

Saskatchewan's program, unveiled in 2007, provides up to $20,000 — over seven years — to graduates of post-secondary institutions who work in the province. The program was expanded in 2008 to apply to graduates working in Saskatchewan no matter where they studied — in Canada or abroad.

Program works, minister says

According to the province's Advanced Education Minister, Rob Norris, the program is working.

Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris says Saskatchewan's Graduate Retention program is working. (CBC)

"In fact, about a thousand graduates per year from across the country and around the world are coming to Saskatchewan to participate in this initiative," Norris said.

However, CBC News found several people in Saskatchewan like Bolduc who came to the province and were quite unaware of the government's recruitment initiative.

"I had no idea," Katie Brickman, 26, from Ontario, said. "I actually found out through my boyfriend when he was helping me with my taxes."

Brickman graduated with a four-year journalism degree from Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. She was looking for full-time work as a sports writer, and landed a job at the Moose Jaw Times Herald in 2011.

Ontario transplants Kate Brickman and Justin Crann say they are in Saskatchewan for the jobs, not the tuition rebate incentive. (CBC)

"At that point, it was: I don't want to be a waitress anymore," she remembers, noting the province's program was not a factor in her decision to move. "I wanted to get my foot in the door."

News reporter Justin Crann, 25, has a similar story. He graduated with a journalism diploma from Humber College in Toronto. He and his girlfriend also found jobs at the newspaper in Moose Jaw.

Like Brickman, Crann said Saskatchewan's tuition fee rebate was news to him.

"Obviously [it was] not a recruitment item for me, because I had no idea it existed before I came," said Crann. "I thought it was interesting that the province was offering a rebate or any sort of incentives for students who didn't study in the province. I didn't grow up in the province [and] I certainly didn't contribute to Saskatchewan before I graduated."

As it turns out, if Brickman stays in the province for seven years, she will qualify for the maximum tuition rebate of $20,000. Crann stands to benefit with a total of $12,000 in rebates.

The rebates are provided in increasingly larger amounts, year by year, over the course of seven years.

Program cost $80 M last year

According to the most recent figures from the province, 50,000 graduates are collecting rebate, right now. Most of them are from Saskatchewan. The cost, for the 2013 tax year, was just over $80 million.

Advanced Education Minister Norris also noted the program is a crucial element to Saskatchewan's strategy for addressing a serious labour shortage.

"[It's] just one more incentive for people to call Saskatchewan home," he said, adding it is pitched at job fairs.

While he concedes that many newcomers to the province weren't recruited by the tuition rebate, Norris suggests it may be successful in keeping them here.

Will move for jobs, newcomers say

But Ontario transplants Brickman and Crann said their future plans are not hinging on the rebate.

 "No," Brickman said. "Because of  how this [media] industry works, you have to be willing to move, if and whenever possible, for the next jump. So it's nice that it comes in every year on the income tax, but, in all honesty, it doesn't hold me here."

With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen


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