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Adult Basic Education classes no longer free at College

Starting next semester, the College of the Rockies will be joining other institutions in charging for Adult Basic Education classes.

Arne Petryshen

Starting next semester, the College of the Rockies will be joining other institutions in B.C. that will be charging for Adult Basic Education (ABE) classes. The change was discussed at the Oct. 8 college board of governors meeting.

At the meeting, a number of faculty members and students expressed concerns about the tuition costs and the difficulties that some of the students may have in paying. The college will be bringing the ABE classes in line with university study courses, so one course will cost $305. The Adult Special Education courses, which provide more assistance to students will cost $450, and the English as a Second Language courses will cost $800.

Leslie Molnar, one of those faculty members, said she wanted to raise awareness about he tuition fees.

“I understand that the combined government funding cuts to the ESL and the ABE have decreased the college’s operating budget to the tune of around $300,000,” Molnar said, adding she also understands the board’s responsibility to balance finances. But Molnar said she was deeply troubled by yet another shift of the financial burden to the students.

“This extra tuition in ABE and ESL will be a burden for some of our students,” she said. “It will be the thing that tips the barrier and makes school unaffordable.”

There is an Adult Upgrading Grant which can help some students, but they have to meet criteria including financial need.

“It says right on the form that if you have other forms of income then that may affect your eligibility,” she noted. “You have to be successful — you can’t keep getting the grant if you have circumstances or learning disabilities that cause you to take the programs that are longer. And not to mention the fact that the form is eight pages long. If the student has literacy issues or doesn’t have access to a computer, that in itself can be a barrier.”

College president David Walls said they do have listings of what other colleges are charging for the course. He said some have hiked their tuition higher than that.

Walls said the fees are meant to recover the costs that were lost with the province’s funding cuts.

Walls said there is also a completion award in development.

“What we’re looking at is, as an incentive for students to complete,” Walls said, adding completion rates are not as high as they would like to see. “The figure that I think is being thrown around is $100 to $150.”

Molnar followed up with philosophical question of how the college feels about the direction that this institution and others will have to take because of the shift of the financial burden.

“Do you support the direction that the government is advocating?” Molnar asked.

Wall said he could never support a reduction in funding in post secondary.

“We had the opportunity when it was in the plans,” Walls said. “We had discussions and expressed similar concerns actually to what you all presented today.”

Walls said they also told the Ministry of Advanced Education that they weren’t ready for the switch — initially the province had removed $230,000 in provincial grants for  this year’s ABE courses.

“They provided that money back towards the transition, which is a one year thing,” Walls said. “That gives us time to think about it and we don’t incur a financial penalty up front.”