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CONTRIBUTION · 15th October 2013
NWCC Students' Union
NWCCSU Presentation to BC Select Standing Committee on Finance

October 9, 2013 in Prince Rupert

First we would like to recognize that this meeting is being conducted on Tsimshian territory.

Northwest Community College Students’ Union is the registered students' society at NWCC. Our members make up Local 66 of the Canadian Federation of Students. We represent, and work for, students at the Northwest Community College campuses in Prince Rupert, Terrace, the Hazeltons, Smithers and Houston. We also represent and work for students on the Kitimat campus; however, since budget cuts last year, the Kitimat campus no longer has regular programs running.

This regular programming once included the Career and College Prep program. At NWCC CCP is what the Adult Basic Education program is called. I will focus on funding for ABE later on during this presentation as ABE is fundamental at NWCC and post secondary education (PSE) across BC.

Funding is key to improving both access and quality post secondary education. For years now, we have seen per-student funding reduced with much of the difference made up with increases to tuition fees. We recognize that cuts to funding and increased fees are related.

Our college is equally strapped for cash, and it has not seen increased core funding equal to inflation since 2002. Members have identified several priorities for improving access, and quality, to PSE in BC:

1. a reduction of tuition fees to 2001 levels, adjusted to inflation; and,
2. the establishment of an up-front needs based provincial student grant program; and,
3. the elimination of interest rates on BC student loans; and,
4. the restoration of operating funding to 2001 levels, accounting for inflation; and,
5. the maintenance and expansion of the governments commitment to keep Adult Basic Education free; and,
6. the re-organization of the Industry Training Authority governance and increased funding for comprehensive trades education.

Average tuition fees in BC were $1727 in 1990 and are $5029 this year.

Province wide, tuition fees have increased 300% over just one generation.

Students today are paying more for PSE than ever before; and, are paying a much higher percentage of the costs than ever before. Fees are a barrier to participation and most new jobs require some PSE. For those who can still access PSE, high fees have caused student debt to hit record levels.

Before tuition fees began to skyrocket to where they are today students already paid back the full cost of their degrees to government. This research was produced by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives-BC. We do so through the progressive taxation system. Students recognize that we already pay for the full cost of our education through the taxes that we pay over our lifetime.
This is how government financed PSE for most of you (committee). Students today are asking for access equal to the last generation.

There are tax credits for PSE in place however you cannot pay your tuition fees with tax credits. Students need support that is up-front; examples include, increased funding to our institutions, reduced fees, a needs based grants system and for you to eliminate interest on student loans.

Student debt in BC is the highest in the country, averaging $37,000 upon completion of a four-year degree. It is $10,000 above the national average. This debt has an adverse effect on BC’s economy. Students today are now entering the workforce with unprecedented debt levels and it will delay purchasing a home, starting a family or investing in a business venture.

High student debt also impacts academic achievement and program completion. UBC researcher Lori McElroy found that completion rates for students with $1000 of debt was 71%; when debt is over $10,000 that percentage drops to a dismal 34%.

Students in BC pay the highest amount of interest on their student loans in the country. Students pay prime plus 2.5%. This means students who can afford to pay for their tuition fees up-front pay no interest to government, while a low income student who needs a loan will pay thousands of dollars in interest. This revenue for the province is only $30 million dollars.

Increasing per-student funding is key to solving the problems that we have outlined today. Since 2001 students have seen an erosion of per-student funding. At NWCC this lead to massive program cuts in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

At most institutions budget cuts usually protect direct classroom learning options, opting to make cuts to other academic and support services. Over the past few years, NWCC has been doing the opposite. Business admin courses were cut by half. Over 30% of the university credit courses have been lost. Worse still, 55% of the ABE faculty were laid off last year. At the same time as cutting 55% of the ABE faculty, ABE courses have changed from instructor led to at-your-own-pace.

This leaves students competing for limited access to instruction and instructors; in the same classroom the level of study may vary from grade 8 to grade 12. Our members are suffering from these cuts and would rather see instructor-led ABE than at-your-own-pace.

The Adult Basic Education program is the access point for many of our members and the success of the program is crucial for the success of all other NWCC programs.

ABE is the gateway into post secondary and trades programs. I need not tell you about the need for skilled trades’ people in our area. Increased investment into this most basic program is needed to ensure the number of students required to run other programs is sufficient. Also, this program ensures students are ready to enter programs – students gain the prerequisites they need before moving into college/university level programs and the skilled trades.

Students in ABE are students who dropped out of high school, did not complete for what ever reason, or are in need of certain courses in order to start business, university credit and trades programs.

While there are no “tuition fees” applied to ABE courses, ancillary fees are still applied. These fees vary greatly across the province. What costs you $7.00 per year at Vancouver Island University costs students $170.00 at NWCC.

This doesn’t sound like a lot of money but what you need to consider is that many people in the ABE program are currently living under the poverty line and have families to support.

36% of adults in BC are illiterate and this number is considered to be higher still in Northwest communities. ABE is an integral part of BC’s education system, increasing literacy, improving high school completion rates and increasing post secondary participation rates among BC’s Aboriginal population. Across BC 59% of ABE students are women, 29% support a family and 71% live below the poverty line. Over half are employed full-time while taking classes.

Government should provide the funding necessary to support and increase comprehensive, instructor led ABE.

In conclusion, major cuts at our college came down at the same time as the government launched the recent jobs plan. In the same year we saw massive reductions to core programming and new programs being funded.

The new short-term skills focused programs may fill very short lived needs, but they do not provide the necessary training on which to found a career. The short-term programs also fail to counteract the long term shortage of qualified skilled workers in BC. In order to build a skilled workforce in BC, government needs to provide educational opportunities from the most basic, ABE, all the way up to red seal certified trades.

We suggest, rather than setting a lower bar, in the form of short-term programs, government increase and dedicate funding to bring students-up to the necessary level to start a career in the skilled trades. This will require improved ABE programs, access and increased funding from the ITA for red seal trades programs.

Thank you for your time and the work that you are undertaking.

NWCCSU-Local 66 Canadian Federation of Students
New economy
Comment by Beatnuck on 17th October 2013
Unfortunately, most job growth is in unskilled services. The only public education that is relevant in this new world order created by the one per-centers is "serving it right" and "superhost." If you want to earn more than minimum wage, your only choice is to join a criminal gang and sell drugs.