Student loan burden eased for select students

By Katy Anderson

After the let down of November’s tuition policy, the Alberta government consoled students by promising big changes to student loans, grants and scholarships. They are now delivering some of these promises in a new affordability framework, released Wed., Feb. 28.

Changes to the student loan program will happen in two stages. As of Apr. 1, medical residence students will not have to pay interest or make tuition payments until they are finished their training. Students with new family members have up to one year until they have to pay interest or make tuition payments. Effective Aug. 1, part-time students will be able to receive twice the amount of bursaries without affecting their student loans and students with disabilities will go from being allowed $1,000 per semester to $3,000 in grants.

“To be perfectly honest these four changes are not big news,” said Students’ Union vice-president external Julie Labonte. “They do affect 2,000 students, and anything that affects any student is a positive thing, but with the affordability framework we expected more, and they said that they would provide more. This is such a small, small movement on successfully implementing this framework.”

Changes to apprenticeship programs across Alberta were also announced Fri., Mar. 1. Spots for more than 3,600 apprentices will be added at a value of over $15 million.

“When it comes to the skilled trades we certainly do need more spots, so that is a positive thing,” said Labonte.

The funding will go towards the costs of physical space, equipment and instructors.

“This is a far cry from what they need to be doing,” said Labonte. “These are positive movements. We need these things, but this isn’t something to get excited about. Although [the announcement] does care for people a little bit more, particularly medical residence [students], mature students or individuals who do get pregnant, we need more. We need to see more students affected.”

Labonte said she was expecting a more holistic view of the student loan program and was looking forward to promised changes like reforming standards of living and increasing the value of a vehicle that students can own.

Advanced Education and Technology Minister Doug Horner maintained that affordability isn’t just about tuition.

“What we want is [post-secondary education] to be affordable, and tuition is only one part of that,” said Horner. “I mean you can have cheap tuition but if you’re living in Calgary maybe the cost of living adjustment is a higher priority to some students than the tuition side of things. If you dropped tuition down to zero, you’re not going to get one more student into our system today because we don’t have the capacity.”

Horner said all announcements were a result of consultation with students during the A Learning Alberta report, released Jun. 6, 2006.

“We’re going to continue to work to make sure that we have the best system in place and that it’s accessible for all students,” said Horner. “For students that have needs we have the programs in place to deal with that.”

Horner said he was unable to reveal future affordability framework announcments but said they would come with the release of the provincial budget Apr. 19.

“I think that you could probably look at the A Learning Alberta report and just tick off the [announcements,]” said Horner. “There are certainly some that need yet to go through a process of determining wether or not they will move forward.”

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