Alberta Government Misses Mark
The Alberta Government recently announced (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200410/1718238A86DF1-30D3-42B7-B87762E615AD28D6.html) that it was well on its way to acting on the various recommendations provided by its own Learning Commission. Of course, what it doesn’t point out is that it’s only acting on the recommendations that it accepted, not all of them.
If I got to pick and choose which assignments from a course I wanted to do, it’d be pretty easy for me to say I’m finishing up everything. Unfortunately, one of the key items for you and me from the Learning Commission’s report (http://www.learning.gov.ab.ca/news/2003/December/nr-GovSupComm.asp) is item 12, “undertake a comprehensive, independent review of Alberta’s post-secondary education system.” This is an item which the government has said they don’t support.
The Alberta government’s take on this (http://www.learning.gov.ab.ca/commission/Oct2004Progress.asp) is that they do not support it because “Alberta Learning conducted an extensive review and consultation on the post-secondary education system, resulting in the development of the Post-Secondary Learning Act and the establishment of the Campus Alberta Quality Council.”
The government is hoping that no sharp-eyed readers spot the difference between “independent review” and “Alberta Learning conducted an extensive review”
So what can you do about it? Simple, write or call (http://www.learning.gov.ab.ca/contactus/) the government and Lyle Oberg, demanding that Alberta Learning follow through with item 12 of the Learning Commission’s recommendations and conduct a truly independent review, rather than review by a non-independent government agency.
A Step in the Right Direction
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador has initiated a new student Debt Reduction (http://www.gov.nf.ca/releases/2004/edu/1006n01.htm) program which will see the entirety of the student’s provincial student loan converted to a non-repayable grant upon graduation. It’s a good first step, but more could be done.
In Alberta, this program is called remission and has been in place for quite a while. The problem with remission or the new program in Newfoundland and Labrador is that it doesn’t really reduce the financial risk of taking a post-secondary education. If you start university or college and then find out for one reason or another that you aren’t able to graduate, your debt remains as a loan. Couple this with life-time limits on student loans that haven’t increased in step with either tuition or inflation and you have a set-up for students being stuck with three years worth of loan debt and no way to afford their final year to graduate.
To give credit where it’s due, a few years ago, Alberta began the process of altering it’ remission program to begin refunds after each successful year of post-secondary education. While this still won’t help with the funding short-fall in a student’s last year, it means successful Alberta students don’t have the additional burden of the provincial loan for however many years they did complete.
So kudos to Newfoundland and Labrador for this first step, and belated kudos to Alberta for its additional measures. Now what we need is for those life-time loan limits to be tied to tuition inflation, and for the federal government to initiate a similar program of its own.
Speech from the Throne
The Liberal government gave its speech from the throne (http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/sft-ddt.asp) last week, and as has been widely reported, there are few surprises.
As usual, the problems of rising tuition and access to post-secondary education for needy families are all but ignored. The speech talked about the government implementing a “Learning Bond” as “an innovative savings vehicle” for low-income families. I’ve pointed out before how this completely misses the problem that low-income families are unable to save in the first place. When you’re forced to make the choice between saving for a post-secondary education for your child to use 16 years from now or feeding and clothing them today, it’s obvious what’s going to lose out.
Aside from more job-skills and literacy training, that was essentially the extent of this government’s post-secondary education ideas.
What’s sad is that more innovative ideas are sitting right in front of them as shown by other provinces. Increased student loan funding and a yearly debt reduction plan for those students who are successful is a great way to increase education access, and likely to be far more effective at actually getting people who want post-secondary education to take it than a “savings vehicle” for the general population.
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.