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Free Tuition for low income students - great idea, poor execution

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My initial reaction to the Gallant government’s announcement of free tuition for low-income students was extremely positive. I saw it not only as an excellent investment in our future but even more than that, a giant step toward breaking the welfare cycle, and for the working poor, a step toward leveling the playing field.

And I was a little put off by all the negative response on social media, which stuck me as overly critical, people finding fault because it wasn’t fair to the middle class or because it wasn’t universal, or because it would be unaffordable and a further drain on taxpayers. That last one really got me because I saw people who were saying that as not being smart enough to understand that getting people off social assistance and educated and into employment is a plus for taxpayers in the long run. Admittedly a bit of arrogance there.

Yeah, I was pretty onside with the government on this, but then the devil really is in the details isn’t it? And as I looked at it closer it became obvious this is far from the historic step the government has labeled it.


When I look at it my sneaking suspicion is that this is aimed not so much at helping students as it is at propping up our universities which are dealing with dropping enrollments and perhaps as well, it’s an attempted make-good for recently backing off measures to deal with the labour arbitration issue, something that universities are particularly concerned about.


Others have made the unfairness point but I’ll repeat it here because it really is relevant. Under this free tuition program, if you make just under $60,000, and have one child, he gets free tuition. If you make just over $60,000 and have three children, you pay the shot for every damn one of them. In what world is this fair?

I get it that in programs such as this, you have to have a cut-off, but it needn’t be this cut and dry.

I’m on the Board of our Progressive Credit Union and on the panel that each year evaluates applications for bursaries. I’d be screaming bloody murder if we deemed the family with an income under $60,000 and one kid more deserving than a family making a bit over $60,000 with several kids. But it wouldn’t happen because we see the unfairness in it, so if we can see it, why can’t the government? The idea of a sliding scale is not that difficult a concept, and it would add that element of fairness.


But that would take more planning. The fact it wasn’t done, just as adding a condition that students benefitting from this program should have an obligation to stay in New Brunswick and contribute to our economy after graduation wasn’t included, further suggests this was put together in a hurry mainly to help the universities. 


As is the case with many government programs, there are winners and losers. The winners in this case – the families of students who are eligible for the free tuition and the universities who will host them. The losers will be all those other families and students who will no longer benefit from the tuition tax rebate and tuition tax credits. Also a potential loser is the New Brunswick economy because with the tuition rebate program gone, gone with it is the incentive New Brunswick graduates had to stay and work in the province, and pay taxes here.

Such a disappointment from the announcement this could and should have been. 


Thanks for reading. For some reason my "Like" button has disappeared, so can't ask you to like this, but I do ask you to share it if you feel so inclinded. Thanks.  


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