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Tough Times Coming for AU Students

Tough Times Coming for AU Students

The Alberta Government released its latest budget documents this past week, and what they say may not prove to be the greatest news for Athabasca University. To begin with, let’s start with a look at the Education section (i) of the budget. In this section, they point out things such as how the Adult Education System will be getting 1.3 billion dollars from the provincial government.

Of course, what they don’t mention is that the 1.3 billion is not just for post-secondary, but rather for post-secondary, apprenticeship, and other direct training programs. Fortunately, they have a little graph on the side (ii) that shows you the total operating grants given to post-secondary institutions. This shows us that the post-secondary institutions are getting about 1.085 billion instead of the full 1.3 billion. Still, the graph is encouraging, as it shows the total continually going up, and has in the bottom corner the statement that “Operating Grants have increased by over 40% since 1996-97.”

This is misleading in a number of ways. First, the value of funding allocated to post secondary education in 1996-97 was actually a lower value than that of years previous. In fact, the 1996-97 year’s funding was the lowest the provincial government gave since at least 1994, according to the government’s own MLA Post-secondary Funding Review Committee’s final report (iii). Appendix 6 of that report lists university operating grants from 1994 to 1999, and shows that in 1994 post-secondary funding was approximately 800 million dollars.

If we take this value on a quick trip to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator (iv), we see that in 2002 dollars, the 1994 amount was worth about 940 million. Some simple math lets us see that in today’s dollars, the provincial government has only increased post-secondary funding by about 15% since 1994. However, the funding is not the only thing that’s gone up since 1994 – so has enrolment. The government’s most recent Profile of Alberta’s Adult Learning System (v) shows us that from 1994 to 2000 alone post-secondary saw an increase of 12% in enrolment, and that was 3 years ago.

In other words, for all of Alberta’s vaunted sound economic management, growth, and surpluses, government funding has basically not increased at all in real dollar/student terms since 1994 – and they think that this is doing a good job.

Of course, all of that is simply background to what’s going to happen next.

If you look through the current Alberta Budget, specifically in the Fiscal Plan (vi) for planned program spending, you’ll see that after a minor boost of 4.1% this year, half of which is going to support apprentice and high-demand student training, the next three years funding is planned to increase by only 2% per year – likely less than inflation.

Worse than that though is the Loans and Advances (vii) chart. If you take a close look at that chart, you’ll see that Alberta Student Finance is expected to go from current loans of $81 million to expected loans of $181 million by next year. Such a huge increase in the amount of loan money expected to be given out by student financing can mean only one of two things: enrolment is expected to jump by amounts that will literally crush our institutions if they are not better funded, or that the government is planning on letting Alberta tuitions soar even higher and make up the difference to Albertans by providing more loans.

Athabasca University students not in Alberta however, may have a difficult time convincing their provincial governments to fund the extra amounts that an AU education will require. Which in turn means that Athabasca University’s plan to rely on growth outside of Alberta might hit a serious roadblock.

So if you are a student in Alberta, the best time to start writing letters is now. Premier Klein has promised to listen to what Albertans say they want, maybe it’s time we started talking to him. If you’re not in Alberta, you may want to make sure that your courses are transferable in case you can’t afford to continue with AU.


(iii) [PDF]
(v) [PDF]

A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.