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A Freeze Hits Alberta

The Alberta government seems to have an interesting set of priorities. For instance, it recently announced (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200311/15526.html) Bill 53 would place a freeze on auto-insurance premiums.

It also recently announced (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200311/15508.html) that Bill 43, even with the amendments, would remove any type of tuition cap from the public post-secondary system.

Now let’s compare these two things. On the one hand, we have private insurance corporations, presumably setting their rates based on what the market will bear. Corporations that receive no funding from tax dollars and for which, if a person does not want to pay insurance, they simply make the choice to not drive.

On the other hand, we have publicly funded post-secondary institutions, setting their rates in a strictly regulated manner, and which receive a great deal of funding from the Alberta taxpayer. A person in Alberta really doesn’t have a choice as to whether they will be funding post-secondary institutions, as it’s part of their tax burden.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I tend to think that if I’m paying into something on the public side, it makes sense for Albertans to be receiving the benefit of that, perhaps in the form of the costs for those who use the service being held strongly in check. I also tend to think that if the government is not funding something, and it has no relation to public health, the government probably does not have any right to be interfering in whatever that is. Yet it seems I must be crazy, as the current Alberta government is going ahead with the exact opposite of these two ideas.

Of course, this is more palatable for the government because it does not have to put out any money of its own, it simply tells the insurance companies what they are allowed to do and not do.

Really it seems to be a typical move for the Alberta government, seeking more control over the daily aspects of our lives while at the same time denying any responsibility for paying for that control. The Bill 43 amendments includes a government board appointed to provide quality checks and recommendations to the learning minister about whether new university programs should be allowed. At the same time, the bill does not commit the government to providing additional funding to cover the costs of preparing these programs for their “quality review.”

What I find most interesting about all of this though is that it seems post-secondary funding issues, especially around Bill 43, are finally starting to push their way into the mainstream media. As an ex-journalist, Premier Klein should know that if the media starts reporting on a long-ignored issue, it means things are getting serious.

Perhaps the threat of an educationally driven election might convince the Premier that Lifelong Learning needs to be more than just a government platitude.

Parents Planning Ahead

Statistics Canada has released the results of a survey (http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/031120/d031120a.htm) on the way that parents look at their children’s future educational needs. Not terribly surprising, most parents start out believing that their child will go on to gain a university degree. As the kids grow, however, parents tend to lower their expectations as they realize the aptitude and interests of their children.

These revisions do not mean that they’ve written off post-secondary for their child entirely though. Instead, parents look toward colleges and trades training programs for their kids. The long and the short of it is that 93% of parents anticipate their child will go on to some form of post-secondary education.

To help them along with this, just under half of the parents surveyed had started a savings plan to try to put their child through college. Another third said that they were planning to start one in the future. However, expectations do not automatically match up with results. If the family was of a lower level income, it was more likely than not (around three-quarters more likely than not) that the parents would not be able to put any money away.

In addition, about 30% of the children in the study had parents who thought their kids would be able to receive additional funding through needs-based bursaries or scholarships. In reality, only about 15% of children were able to receive that type of funding.

For scholarships based on academic achievement, the disconnect is even more apparent. About 40% of the children had parents who believed they would be receiving some kind of academic scholarship. Yet again, only 15% of students were actually able to receive these kind of awards.

So, what does this all mean? It simply means a continuing trend of people who are wealthy being able to send their kids to post-secondary, while those who are not wealthy generally cannot, even though they want to. It also means that most of the public doesn’t realize just how poor the supports for children who don’t come from the elite classes really are. It’s this kind of belief that allows our governments to continue to drop the ball in properly funding post-secondary education at all levels.

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.

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