I need to start this post off by first stating that I believe in the move that the Gallant Government made. Access to Education and Training is the single most effective way to raise people out of poverty and train our workforce to contribute better to the growth of our stagnant economy. I believe that institutions that receive so much public funding should not exclude large segments of said public.
With all that said, this program is not the Hail Mary Pass that will change the lives of young people in the province. If we look at a New Brunswicker’s professional life using the metaphor of a house, education and training is the foundation, the basement. It is damn near impossible to build a lasting and stable structure without it, but if you never build beyond it, you’ll still spend your entire life living in a hole.
The Double-Edged Sword
The New Brunswick Student Alliance and FEECUM are the Province’s only (as far as the government is concerned) Youth Advocacy associations. This post is not meant to diminish the excellent work of these fine organizations. There work with government is one of the main reasons this tuition benefit came into effect. They are the reason tuition freezes occur or at the very least the reason that they do not skyrocket beyond the realm of the reasonable.
It is essential for current and future students to understand that university or college; that’s the easy part. Once you graduate as I did, with an arts degree, you find out pretty quick that regardless of whether you went through your schooling via student loans, family savings or even scholarships, the real world is harsh. Unfortunately, this program which will only benefit about 1 in 3 people going to university (current stats) will do so by eliminating programs that helped young people in what is “Actually” the most critical time to help a young person out, their early twenties.
Eight Months Ago,
So any of you who follow my blog likely know that I have a small NPO, we have a board that rarely if ever meets, it’s in reality just an information distribution network to try and spread the word about generational inequity. As part of this initiative we’ve hosted a candidates debate in the last Federal Election, we have spent funds to plaster government decisions that affect young New Brunswickers into their Facebook Newsfeed and encouraged young leaders to run for office. So when the Tuition Rebate was axed, a program that allowed young grads to claim substantial rebates from their provincial income tax by building their lives in New Brunswick, I contacted the Executive Director of the NBSA to let her know that this was going to be an issue that we were going to pursue.
Before this conversation, I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Kenny Minister of Local Government and Environment. I gave him a friendly and respectful bit of shit about canceling a program that I knew for a fact was helping a large number of fellow university grads do everything from pay down their student loans to putting down payments on houses. Minister Kenny is an available man and very open to discussion; he just stated that the tuition rebate was not producing the results they had expected or needed and that they were going to replace it with something better. I replied the real issue behind the ineffectiveness of the tuition rebate was the lack of jobs, not the universally adored program. However, the mention of an unnamed program stuck out to me. I had my suspicions about what this might be, but as it was early October and we were in the midst of a Federal Election I allowed my mind to pass on other things.
Then I called the NBSA.
The election had passed, the Conservatives were out, even our riding of Acadie-Bathurst had seen a change of colour for the first time in nearly twenty years. I along with some of the other board members were feeling good, so I called the NBSA to let them know what we were thinking about going after next. When I brought up the topic of getting the Tuition Rebate reinstated the very helpful and friendly conversation I was having took a sudden and sharp change in tone. Apparently, the NBSA was also aware of this upcoming replacement program, and that the funds used for the Tuition Rebate were going to be rolled into supporting this initiative. At this point, I guessed what was going to happen. Newfoundland had just passed legislation to make post-secondary free for its students, a decision that I was as happy to see as the one in New Brunswick.
These conversations were eight months ago, for eight months both our provincial government and our only recognized lobby group kept the tuition program a secret. I understand that there were I’s to dot, and T’s to cross, but Young New Brunswickers need to know the following:
For the better part of a year, if not two, the provincial government and the only youth voice they listen to, developed a plan in secret. They announced it like it was the second coming and quite simply took money from programs we already had and reallocated it to a different point, one where it goes automatically to the institutions that they provide funding to already.
What Needs to Happen
Like I said off the top, this program is an excellent program. I praised it on Facebook, and I still do. It will provide a lot of people with opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. However, in a province where the majority of our population lives in rural pockets, where we have two linguistic education and training systems that further limits access to post-secondary training, this program cannot be seen as a fix-all. Especially, when said program is just taking money from grads to give to Frosh/Freshmen.
Simply put, to maximize the potential of this program the government should take the following steps, ones they should have been setting up since last October:
- Set up regional learning centers to facilitate greater access to post-secondary courses
- Extend the program to private institutions so that businesses can deliver single or limited course offerings to remote areas at less cost to the government
- Follow through on the commitment to increasing access to affordable subsidized childcare
- Demand that publicly funded institutions make more of their course catalog available online so that larger numbers of students can access post-secondary training without the substantial costs of moving, rent and travel.
If the government were to take a look at the province, it would see that we are a sparsely populated rural province, and many of the people that this program is intended to help will only be supported if you can remove the other substantial barriers to their education. The spin-off from these steps will provide benefits for recent grads too. Regional training centres will increase the ability to upgrade skills, and subsidized daycare will make it easier to start a family. Private institutions can set up in more agile fashions creating both classroom seats and jobs.
Ultimately, the Tuition Assistance Program is a great start; it took a lot of vision to get to this point. I just hope that the province has the vision to look past those initial four years or the cities where the current public institutions are. Here’s hoping.