‘Caught off guard’: Low-income Alberta students scramble to return to school on lower scholarships

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Some students are scrambling to find additional loans and adjust their out-of-pocket expenses, after the Alberta government announced in late July that it would reduce the amount of monthly funding received through its bursary program for full-time students. .

The new budget allocations mean that the income thresholds to qualify for the Alberta Scholarship for Full-Time Students have changed. The Alberta government says this allows more low-income students to access funding.

But as a result, students will receive less money per month than a year ago. Last year’s monthly maximum was $375, but it’s been cut by a third to $250 this coming school year.

“Students have been caught off guard by the lack of communication about these cuts to the funding they are receiving,” said Samantha Scott, president of the Council of Alberta University Students.

“Given the unprecedented rate of inflation and the current affordability crisis that students are already facing, this has heightened the struggle.”

Some students may be forced to drop out of school altogether due to the change in funding, Scott added.

Samantha Scott, president of the Council of Alberta University Students, says students are struggling to cope with an unprecedented rate of inflation and an affordability crisis. (Submitted by Samantha Scott)

“It really pits low-income people against each other,” she said.

Grant funding has been maintained at $54.4 million, but income eligibility thresholds have changed in a way that essentially prevents students from middle-income families from benefiting.

Last school year, a student could receive at least some money from the grant, if their family was of a certain size and earned a certain income, said Sam Blackett, press secretary to the Minister of Education. Alberta Higher Education, Demetrios Nicolaides, to CBC News. in an email.

A student in a family with one child, for example, would have qualified for the maximum grant if the family earned $32,102 or less, but would still have qualified for the grant if their family earned no more than $63,615. $.

However, there is no income range for the upcoming academic year.

Students from a family with one child, for example, can only qualify for the scholarship if their family income is $33,180 or less.

The changes are intended to ensure that grant money is available to more people who need it most, Blackett said.

The University of Alberta Students’ Union is unhappy with the government’s decision, particularly the lack of notice, President Abner Monteiro said.

“We don’t even get notice that these changes are being made, so students can’t plan ahead for their semester,” Monteiro said.

The change also makes the cost of living more unaffordable for low- and middle-income families, amid rising inflation and continuously rising tuition fees, Monteiro added.

“Quite a shock”

Montana Bobinski, a student at the University of Alberta, will be entering her third year of full-time graduate studies this fall.

Over the past two years, Bobinski has received $4,500 to help pay for his tuition. This year, however, he will only receive $2,000 in grants from the Alberta government.

Montana Bobinski, a student at the University of Alberta, says loans and grants are her only real options for earning extra money. (Submitted by Montana Bobinski)

“It was quite a shock,” said Bobinski, who is earning a master’s degree in science.

He applied for the Alberta Scholarship for Full-Time Students immediately after applications opened in late June.

On July 26, Bobinski received a letter from Alberta Student Aid stating that the maximum funding per student would be reduced by $125 per month this year.

“I can’t cut my graduate school. It’s a big cut for me, and especially for other students who are probably in more desperate financial straits,” he said.

At some universities, graduate students are also discouraged from accepting part-time jobs by their faculty, he said.

The University of Alberta limits full-time graduate students to 12 hours of on-campus work each week, and part-time jobs with other companies are frowned upon, Bobinski said, adding that loans and scholarships are his only real options for earning extra money. .

“There’s very little room in my budget now each month for additional purchases besides necessities,” Bobinski said. “If I have an expensive emergency, I’m going to have to dip into my savings to pay for that.”

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