Students see decrease in scholarships, increase in loan accessibility

Alberta students may find themselves in a new financial situation next year with fewer scholarships and bursaries and increased access to student loans following the announcement of this year’s provincial budget.

The budget, announced on Feb. 9., outlined a $54 million decrease in up-front assistance, but a $38 million increase in student loans.

A Government of Alberta communications officer explained to the Gauntlet the reason for the changes.

“We’ve cut a few scholarships, but those were undersubscribed in many ways,” he told the Gauntlet. “We want to make sure that we are focusing our resources in the best possible way. Expanding the student loans gives us an opportunity to help that many more students ultimately [. . .] that’s at the essence of expanding the student loans.”

He also conveyed that the government is enhancing students’ ability to pay at the back end, once they’ve completed their schooling.

Advanced Education and Technology minister Doug Horner further explained the government’s rationale to Students’ Union vice-president external Kay She.

“The way [Minister Horner] explained it to us was for every dollar that they can budget [. . .] in up-front government assistance such as scholarships, grants and needs-based bursaries, they can budget three dollars for loans,” said She. “What he thought was great was he could increase the money three times for students to acce­­­­­­ss for their post secondary degrees.”

She explained that while this looks great on paper, it doesn’t necessarily work for students.

“Front-end assistance means front-up support, it means knowing that you’ll have that money to pay for your education right away,” said She. “Increasing how [many loans] you can access means a constant cloud that the students walk with for however long their degree is, wondering at the completion of that degree if they will be able to pay it off.”

She added that it’s “scary” that now a student could be graduating with significantly more debt than they would have before, when access to more scholarships was available.

“Frankly, I think students are disappointed that the government has decided to take money out of the budget lines for scholarships, grants and needs-based bursaries and put them into increased access for students to access student loans,” said She. “I know for some graduate scholarships, they were actually important and meaningful for graduate students.”

She also noted that problematic or undersubscribed bursaries and scholarships could be reconfigured or better communicated.

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