Staff at Northwest Community College have been busy preparing for the coming school year.

Staff at Northwest Community College have been busy preparing for the coming school year.

Adult upgrading not out of reach

Beginning in January 2015, public post-secondary institutions in B.C. have been allowed to charge tuition for all adult upgrading courses

Just because adult upgrading courses no longer carry free tuition, doesn’t mean that the college program is out of reach financially for lower-income northern B.C. adult residents.

That’s the message that Mercedes de la Nuez, Northwest Community College (NWCC) Career and College Preparation (CCP) coordinator, is conveying as fees begin to mount for adults looking to upgrade their education in Prince Rupert and the area.

“In the past – actually, up until last June – adult upgrading (or CCP) has been tuition-free for any adult students returning to school,” explained de la Nuez last week.

“But that has changed. It will formally change in 2016, but we’re making the transition now.”

Back in December 2014, the B.C. government changed the fee structure of adult upgrading courses and English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. High school courses at a post-secondary institution will remain free only for those working toward an Adult Dogwood Diploma or for adults looking to take basic, introductory courses. All others looking to supplement their K-12 education with additional courses to reach a post-secondary program will pay.

Beginning in January 2015, public post-secondary institutions in B.C. have been allowed to charge tuition fees for all adult upgrading courses, including ESL programs. As well, beginning in May of this year, the Ministry of Education had stopped funding for school districts for tuition-free upgrading courses for those who already have a high school diploma.

“High school is free, but further upgrading is not. I think it is reasonable to expect adults who’ve already graduated to contribute to these costs,” said then-Minister of Education Peter Fassbender in a December release.

However, that change is causing problems for residents on the North Coast and college staff have been inundated with concerns from potential students who feel like they have no way of being able to pay for upgrading in some of the courses they need to attend a post-secondary program.

“We keep bumping into students or people on the street who think there’s no more adult upgrading or they can’t afford it because they’ve run out of weeks in their [old week-based Adult Basic Education Student Assistance Program or ABESAP] ABESAP program, so they can’t come back,” said de la Nuez.

“Students who didn’t have funding or didn’t have a means of paying were eligible for the ABESAP grant – that would cover their books, their tuition, any student fees and often a bus pass … The only issue with ABESAP was there used to be a cap on weeks, so you could only attend for so many weeks and once those weeks ran out and they didn’t finish, it didn’t matter. There was still no funding left.”

Now, a new grant has been established by the government, called the Adult Upgrading Grant (AUG), which provides needs-based support to students enrolled in developmental programs.

To qualify for AUG, students must be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or protected person, be a B.C. resident, be enrolled in an approved Adult Basic Education, Adult Special Education, or ESL course, must demonstrate financial need and not exceed the maximum of 156 weeks of AUG funding.

The good news for prospective students in adult upgrading, is that once they make the switch from the ABESAP program to the AUG grant (if they’re eligible), is that they can start fresh in time that has been allotted to them.

“We’re telling them, with the switchover with AUG, they can start fresh and no longer have a cap on the number of weeks they can attend. So that’s a great thing for a lot of students … who are juggling quite complex family lives and different stresses and barriers. It’s not always possible to come to school every day. A lot of times, students are under an incredible amount of stress,” said de la Nuez.

“College is really a safe place for them to come and start to feel good about themselves and get skills that will help them move on and hopefully find employment. And if their goal isn’t employment, then it’s often to support their kids in school and they want them to be able to have a different life.

Many trade programs that NWCC offers, including welding, electrical, millwright and health assistance, requires Grade 11 pre-requisite courses and CCP is the place to get them. Should they not have those courses in their high-school diploma, then they will either pay tuition and fees, or apply for the AUG grant and have financial help.

Additionally, the AUG grant is designed to help adult B.C. residents’ literacy rates, which according to B.C. literacy organization, Decoda Literacy, sees 40 per cent of all B.C. adults having difficulty reading a newspaper, filling out a work

application form, reading a map or understanding a lease.

Forty-nine per cent of B.C. adults don’t have the necessary skills to calculate a tip, create a budget, calculate sales tax or understand credit card interest rates, according to Decoda.

Any student looking to apply for the AUG grant and CCP courses can contact NWCC educational advisor Bernadette McNabb at 250-624-6054 ext. 5719 or First Nations access coordinator Kaarlene Lindsay at 250-624-6054 ext. 5722.

“They’re super helpful in sorting out course selection and any funding questions,” said de la Nuez.