At one time, the Voice featured an editorial in each issue. Unfortunately as the paper and AUSU have grown, I’ve been unable to find the time to write a new column each week. I try, however, to keep my hand in and write articles when important information for AU students becomes available. The following article detailing the very complicated Alberta tuition relief program (complicated for Athabasca University, that is), is one such article. It was published on February 23rd.

AU 2005/06 Tuition and Budget

As promised by Ralph Klein in February’s televised Fireside Chat, the tuition of Alberta students will not rise one cent for the 2005/06 school year. This is a simple proposition for students at the other three Alberta universities, but here at AU, things need a little more explaining.

First, as people keep repeating, because it is such an important distinction, this is not a tuition freeze. In a freeze, the universities are not permitted to raise tuition for a set period of time, but in this case, the universities can and will raise tuition according to their proposed budgets for 2005/06. However, the government will subsidize Alberta students for any increase above the 2004/05 rate. While this may appear to be a freeze to Alberta students who take courses next year, it’s important to remember that tuition will increase, even if we do not have to pay it. The subsidy program is only slated to last for one year, and at the end of that year the invisible increase will take effect, and most likely another increase will be added for the 2006/07 year. So if AU increases tuition by 7% in both 05/06 and 06/07, this will appear to be a 14% increase for Alberta students in the latter year. In both years, AU will receive their full tuition amount, but in 05/06 it will come from two different sources.

This program, called the Centennial Grant, might seem odd to those outside Alberta, but for those in the province, it’s familiar terrain. We already receive rebates on our very high gas and electricity bills. This controversial program has allowed the utility companies to raise their rates beyond what the market will bear, while consumers are protected from devastating increases by government contributions. Alberta is accustomed to this model, so it’s no surprise that Klein has used a similar tactic here, though it’s not clear why he did not simply increase funding to the universities to offset tuition increases.

The bad news for students outside Alberta is that this program applies only to Alberta students as it is a government rebate specifically for the taxpayers of Alberta using Albertan tax dollars in our Heritage Fund. The good news is that AU has quickly revised their budget plan, which had already included another $10 reduction of the out-of-province fee, to further decrease that fee by $18.

Alberta Students: Tuition will increase, invisibly, while the course materials fee increase will still be payable. The tuition portion of the increase is covered by the Alberta rebate as it is under the tuition fee policy, but the course materials fee increase is not covered. Therefore Alberta students will pay a very small increase over last year’s course fee, but the actual course feel will increase by 6-7% (number not yet confirmed) and this increase will come into effect at the end of 2005.

Canadian Students Outside Alberta: Tuition and fees will increase by the same amount as for Alberta students, while the out of province fee will decrease by $28 to a proposed $27. This reduction will almost entirely offset the tuition increase, and this reduction is permanent. Therefore the actual increase for out of province students will be very low – about 1-2% (exact figures to come).

Students Outside Canada: Data not yet available.

Fee changes for all students: the extension fee will also increase, but most other fees, such as exam requests and transcripts, remain the same. All fee changes will take effect on September 1, 2005. The Alberta subsidy will expire by the end of August 31, 2006 and all increases will come in to effect for Albertans as the 2006/07 budget is also released.

How will the subsidy work?

AU has several months to determine exactly how the subsidy will work, but the plan is that Alberta students will not be paying any additional fees up front. The form will state the actual cost of tuition for the 2005/06 school year, and then Alberta students will be able to select a rebate option prior to paying. AU will then bill the government for that portion of tuition. In this way the actual cost of tuition will be made clear to students, but Alberta students will not have to pay the subsidized amount up front.

Is it not clear what the government intends to do about rising tuition over the 2005/06 school year, but we’ll keep you posted.

We couldn’t include everything:

There were so many great articles we could have included here that this issue simply represents a cross section of the kind of material appearing in the Voice each week. Because all submissions to the Voice are by freelance writers, we had to seek permission to reprint each item and this also affected the content of this issue. Some writers have preferred to submit their work elsewhere, and we wish them the best of luck.

Don’t forget to read the Voice each week over the coming year where you will find articles by many of the authors featured here, as well as regular columns that are not featured here including:

The Good Life, by Janice Behrens – a weekly slice of lifestyles and modern living.

Canadian FedWatch by Karl Low – every week, learn what the federal and provincial governments are doing that will affect AU students across the country and around the world.

Lost & Found by Bill Pollett – also weekly, this column is sometimes wry, sometimes moving, and always thought-provoking peek inside the author’s mind.

Women You Should Know by Barbara Godin – a monthly tribute to some of the most extraordinary women you’ll ever read about.

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