Province drops tuition-free upgrading

Selkirk College to keep offering free Adult Basic Education next semester

Never has there been a better time to heed a parent’s warning to pay attention in class and stay in school.

High school is free, but upgrading is not, says the provinces’s education minister, noting that he thinks it’s reasonable to expect adults who’ve already graduated to contribute to the costs.

British Columbians enrolled in Adult Basic Education (ABE) seeking a diploma or improving high school grades, have headed back to class tuition-free for the last seven years. And since 2012, a federal-provincial immigration agreement had students learning English as a second language (ESL) at no cost.

That’s all going to change in three weeks.

According to a Thursday news release from the Ministry of Education, a number of changes to prioritize the K-12 sector has lead to an over haul of public post secondary educational opportunities. Meaning, on Jan. 1, colleges and other respective institutions can charge tuition fees for all adult upgrading courses and ABE, including ESL programs.

Additionally, beginning May 1, anyone who already holds a high school diploma but wishes to upgrade, will have no choice but to pay for their courses.

Locally, there are over 500 students taking basic adult courses at Selkirk College campuses, including about 50 who are enrolled in adult special education classes.

The college’s Trail campus currently has almost 100 students who could be affected by these changes in the future.

The news is a blow to many of the area’s students, says Mathew Jameson, an ABE Selkirk College student who sits as chairperson of the Local 4 student union.

“For myself, I am going into psychology next year,” he explained. “I did graduate from high school, but through ABE I can take the first level course for free before I start college next fall.”

Adult basic and upgrading classes can lead someone down a different career path, Jameson continued, adding that the ministry’s announcement denies a student’s right to a better life through education.

“’Education is a right’ is one of our long standing campaigns,” he said. “Students in the Kootenays who rely on Selkirk College to provide free adult basic education are being betrayed by the BC Liberals. Tuition free adult basic education is a necessary part of an equitable education system.”

Early last week, the Ministry of Education confirmed school districts across the province will receive a bump of money to cover costs related to the new teachers’ contract – so news that funds will be taken from another branch of learning could be detrimental for mature students.

“From what I have read, post-secondary institutions will be able to charge up to $320 per part-time course including ABE,” noted Jameson. “That’s quite an increase from zero, and will leave a lot of people out in the cold.”

Fortunately for Selkirk College students, the institution hasn’t charged ABE fees since 1998, and has no plans to do so for its next semester.

The college has included ABE courses within its current fiscal budget and maintains further details are required before any changes will be considered.

“There is very little information on specifics available at the moment,” explained Angus Graeme, Selkirk College president.

“In the meantime, there are no plans on the part of Selkirk College to apply a tuition fee to ABE courses during the coming winter semester in any of the communities that we serve.”

Beginning April 1, the annual adult upgrading grants, meant to cover tuition and textbooks and incidentals like transportation and child care, will increase 33 per cent to $7.6 million.

Low-income earners will have grants available, but if the student is above the province’s income threshold, then the onus is on him or her to pay. However. students who were previously above the allowable earnings mark (up to 10 per cent), could be eligible for a grant to cover half their tuition fees.

If the adult students pursue a dogwood diploma or upgrade classes in their respective school district, then the tuition remains free. But that opportunity is only available in Grand Forks, meaning students elsewhere in the West Kootenay will have to pay to upgrade in other post-secondary institutions.