The Government of New Brunswick is extending the timely completion benefit to students graduating this spring, reversing an earlier decision to end it immediately.
“Our government heard from students graduating this year that immediately discontinuing the timely completion benefit would impact them. Since students graduating in 2019 had been planning on this debt relief, we will honour it,” said Trevor Holder, the minister responsible for post-secondary education, in a statement.
The benefit was introduced in 2009 and forgives all federal and provincial loans greater than $32,000 upon graduation from a post-secondary institution, given that the student completes their program in the minimum established timeline.
The provincial government announced on Thursday that students graduating this spring will remain eligible for the timely completion benefit, despite the recent decision to cut this program just over a week prior.
Students will have seven months following their graduation to apply for the benefit.
The program was removed under the logic that it had cost too much - at $3.3 million in 2018 - and had benefited too few people.
The province announced major changes to post-secondary financial aid earlier this month with the announcement of a renewed tuition bursary program. The new financial aid framework is an “extended” version of the two programs currently in place: the free tuition program for low-income New Brunswickers introduced in 2016, and the tuition relief for middle class families introduced in 2017.
As provincial and federal grants will no longer be enough to cover the costs of tuition, students currently attending university under the province’s free tuition program will face increased fees come September. Those from families with a total income of $60,000 or less will receive the maximum benefit, while middle class families will continue to receive bursaries based on a sliding scale.
The maximum provincial grant will now be $3,000 per year for university students and $1,500 for college students.
The province is also reintroducing the New Brunswick tuition tax credit.
Green Party leader David Coon, the MLA for Fredericton South, said in a statement that he wrote to the premier last week, asking he grandfather-in current students for the bursary program and timely completion benefit.
“If the new plan stands, it will cause many students significant financial hardship, and for some will mean they will have to drop out of school,” Coon said.
The New Brunswick Student Alliance has been strongly opposed to the changes.
Emily Blue, the alliance’s executive director, said tuition tax credits tend to disproportionately advantage higher-income students and is not a form of debt relief. She said the NBSA had been asking for the elimination of the timely completion benefit with the funds going towards a new upfront debt-relief program.
The organization has been advocating for a reversal of the changes along with student associations across New Brunswick.
Despite the timely completion benefit rollback, students remain largely unhappy with the changes to the tuition relief programs.
Madison Rideout, a second-year computer science student at the University of New Brunswick, relied on the free tuition program to pursue her dream program.
“I don't know if I would be where I am today if it weren't for the free tuition program,” she said.
Rideout believes the renewed tuition bursary program will decrease the number of students willing to stay in New Brunswick.
“They're leaving a lot of people without funding they thought they would have, and honestly with not enough funding to get them through their degrees,” she said. “I think that a lot of people who were under the free tuition program may choose to finish their degrees elsewhere, and I can't imagine that nearly as many upcoming high school graduates will stay.”