Post-secondary policies tackling poverty reduction

John Corsiglia (former Adult Basic Education student at Vancouver Community College), and Taryn Thomson, ABE Department Head at Vancouver Community College. Photo by Joshua Berson.
British Columbia continues to be the country’s only province without a formal poverty reduction strategy. And while that’s not something we can take pride in, we do have a handful of brand-new post-secondary policies that will have a significant impact on low-income earners, former youth-in-care, single parents, Indigenous and new Canadians.
 
The provincial government has implemented four new measures in the nick of time—in the month before the first day of school. It’s worth noting that none of these measures is new or groundbreaking.
 
Two of these policies used to exist but were axed by the former government, and the other two have been doing cartwheels in-and-around the Legislature for years.
 
Yet none of that really matters today; what’s important is that each one is here this September, and will play a role in poverty reduction for real people, who are trying to better their lives through advanced education.
 
It’s refreshing to witness public policy that supports students and our post-secondary system. These new measures are effectively opening doors to future job opportunities and career growth and, ultimately, they will benefit the province, socially and economically.
 
Affordable and accessible post-secondary training is undeniably good.
 
The B.C. government has been saying for a few years that 80 percent of future jobs will require some form of post-secondary training.
 
Study after study confirms that people with higher levels of education tend to have more stable employment and earn more than their lesser educated peers. They are also more likely to report to have good health and overall well-being.
 
Let’s look at each new policy to breakdown what impact it will have:
 
Policy #1: Tuition-free post-secondary for former youth-in-care. I know of very few kids, who at 19-years-old, have the necessary social and financial supports in place to become fully independent young adults, funding their housing, food, transportation and education past high school. Yet, that’s what was expected of the 700 kids who age out of the foster care system each year—until now.
 
Seventy percent of youth who have been in government care say they plan to continue their education after high school, but last year only 150 (or 21%) did so at fewer than half of the province’s post-secondary institutions.
 
The previous waivers were funded out of the institutions’ own resources. However, as of this week, these kids have one less barrier to pursuing that desired post-secondary training as all 25 of BC’s public colleges and universities are part of the province-wide, tuition-waiver program.
 
Policy #2: Tuition-free Adult Basic Education. These courses are the equivalent of high school upgrading for people who have never graduated, or for those who did graduate but were missing certain courses, or if more than five years have passed since they completed them.
 
As an example, requirements for many students who are looking to enter the healthcare field might include upgrading high school biology and chemistry before they can apply to certain programs.
 
Policy #3: Tuition-free courses for English language learners. These courses are the building blocks that English language learners need to incorporate successfully into society. Language proficiency makes day-to-day activities easier and it opens opportunities for personal, social and professional growth.
 
And it’s not just basic English—programs are tailored to foreign-trained engineers and healthcare professionals, among others.
 
I anticipate enrollment in ELL and Adult Basic Education courses will rebound this school year, reversing a 36 percent drop in the three years since when tuition (as high as $1,600 per semester) was imposed. Thousands of students will benefit from these policy changes.
 
Policy #4. A reduction in student loan rates. The average student debt in B.C. is $35,000 after a four-year program, making repayment on the principle, let alone the interest, rather monumental.
 
Since August 1, interest rates on student loans are held at prime (currently set at 2.95 percent), down from prime plus 2.5 percent. This measure effectively halves the accumulation of interest rates, which should help to lower the burden of student debt for learners across the province.
 
Graduates should be able to pay off their debt faster and, as a result, end up paying less in total. The government has promised to eliminate interest on all student loans, and introduce a completion grant of $1,000, benefiting tens of thousands of former B.C. students.
 
My opinion is that B.C. is off to an excellent start this school year, because:
 
●      Former youth-in-care have tuition waived across the province should they opt to pursue post-secondary.
●      Low-income earners and people who want to retrain can start on their path to high school upgrading, without the barrier of tuition.
●      English Language Learners are getting the building blocks they need to communicate with others in their communities, and seek or better their employment.
●      New graduates won’t be saddled with excessively high interest rates on debt they’ll already require decades to pay off.
 
This September, there are four fewer obstacles for students in B.C. who want to continue with post-secondary training—and I’m definitely proud of that.

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