BC Budget 2020 includes new grant for post-secondary students

A new grant for low- to middle-income post-secondary students has been introduced as part of the BC Budget 2020 to improve access to education and reduce student loan debt across the province.

Announced today, the BC Access Grant is an upfront, needs-based grant meant to complement the Canada Access Grant. The two grants ensure that low- to middle-income students receive up to $4,000 a year to help cover the costs of post-secondary programs which lead to a degree, diploma or certificate.

“Starting in September 2020, the new BC Access Grant will provide upfront funding to more than 40,000 students who may otherwise struggle to pay for post-secondary education,” said BC Finance Minister Carole James in a speech on February 18.

“This grant is about investing in our shared future … a future where BC’s workforce is flexible, innovative and ready to thrive in a world shaped by advancing technology, global trade and climate action.”

Totalling $41 million overall, the grant was created through a $24 million investment over three years. The grant will also be available to part-time students and students enrolled in programs of less than two years, for the first time.

Last year, the BC government eliminated interest on provincial student loans as part of the 2019 BC Budget.

AMS VP External Cristina Ilnitchi says that lobbying for upfront, needs-based grants has been a key priority for the AMS over the past two years. The AMS recently partnered with the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) and British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS) to push the government on the issue in a joint lobby trip in November 2019.

“It’s really exciting to have the government actually listen to student advocates who are the beneficiaries of these programs and respond to it by enacting actual policy that will support students,” said Ilnitchi.

“This particular piece means that BC is no longer the only province with no upfront, needs-based grants in Canada anymore.”

Ilnitchi added that the last time BC had upfront, needs-based grants was over 15 years ago — and while the announcement was “a really important step forward,” the AMS would like to see the program expand in the coming years.

“This is a really important initiative to actually put funding to use when you need it the most,” she said.

In addition to assisting with funding for studies upfront, the BC Access Grant is meant to help lower student loan debt. According to a media release from the AMS, the latest government research shows average students graduate with $11,200 in BC loan debt. When combined with federal loans, the total debt is around $28,000 on average.

“With tuition fees at an all-time high, student debt in BC continues to grow as students and their families struggle to afford the education they need to enter the workforce,” said BCFS Chairperson Tanysha Klassen in a written statement.

“The BC Access Grant will help students access not only four-year programs, but certificate and diploma programs that are key for many aspects of the workforce.”