Parental contribution change “probably” won’t affect 4,500 students?

This past week the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, Martine Coulombe, st_thomas_universitywas coaxed into speaking to the media on the issue of parental contribution.  In the interview, Minister Coulombe dismissed concerns of students and parents regarding parental contribution.  “Probably there are not much students who will be affected or family,” she said.

This statement caught my attention.  Probably not many students will be affected?  It doesn’t sound very certain, does it?  I mean, doesn’t the Minister and her staff know exactly how many students and their families will be affected?  The statement above sounds a bit like she’s guessing (or hoping?) that no one will be affected negatively.

If one digs a bit deeper it’s clear that the Minister knows exactly how many students’ families will be impacted by the parental contribution change.  During main estimates on April 15, the Minister provided the stats on exactly how many students’ families are affected by the change in parental contribution rules.  Although the Minister couldn’t answer the question when it was posed to her during Question Period (starting at 21:20), she was able to provide the numbers later in the day:

“Le changement touchera environ 29 % des étudiants qui reçoivent un prêt, donc environ 4 465 étudiants. Cette réduction en prêts provinciaux signifie une économie de 1,6 million de dollars pour le gouvernement.” (Source, page 34, Google translation).

Doesn’t sound like “probably” not many students or families affected, does it?  The Minister knows very well that the change to parental contribution would affect 29% of the approximately 15,400 students who received loans in 2010-2011, totalling about 4,465 students.   That’s almost 4,500 families who need to come up with additional funds to support their adult dependents’ studies.

We know from students who have spoken out that these changes can total in the thousands of dollars.  One student had his loan cut by over 65%, requiring his parents to attempt to contribute over $9,000.  PETL itself tells us that the revised annual parental contribution amounts for middle-class families can be substantial:

“Les parents dont le salaire est de 60 000 $ à 85 000 $ — soit 25,8 % ou 26 % des étudiants — devront fournir une contribution parentale de 1 000 $ à 3 000 $. À 80 000 $ par année, le parent devra contribuer environ 1 715 $ par année. Le parent qui reçoit 90 000 $ par année devra faire une contribution parentale d’environ 4 606 $ par année. Le parent qui reçoit 100 000 $ devra faire une contribution d’environ 6 000 $ par année.” (Source, page 37, Google translation)

When a middle-class family is supposed to come up with extra thousands in unplanned funding in these challenging economic times, how can the Minister say they aren’t affected?  Clearly, her statement must mean that families of a certain income level can “probably” come up with the extra money.  The government’s argument is that it’s the parents’ responsibility to contribute to the first four years of their adult dependents’ post-secondary education, so go find the cash.

In fairness, maybe some families can find the extra funds.  Maybe the parents can take out (or co-sign) a private loan with higher interest rates and no repayment grace periods.  (These private loans are also ineligible for consideration as part of the post-graduate debt reduction programs, like the New Brunswick Timely Completion Benefit.)  The department’s numbers say that 11.3% of student loan borrowers have household incomes of over $100,000; perhaps these families can live more modestly and make it work.

But, perhaps many can’t.

Did they consider that families who may be experiencing financial hardship despite their higher than average incomes?

As John Case mentions, did they consider students at private institutions who have higher tuitions and need access to more funding? (Case mentions almost all of the dependent students at his institution have been directly impacted.)

Did they consider that according to the government’s calculators that New Brunswickers are expected to pay the highest parental contribution in the Atlantic Provinces?

Fact is, PETL doesn’t know.  They admit on pages 39-40 of the hansard that the impact of the change on overall accessibility was never studied.

Regardless, don’t mistake the Minister’s meaning when she says that students and families “probably” won’t be affected.  They are definitely affected.  They know this change will directly impact almost 4,500 families of adult dependents studying at post-secondary institutions.

What the Minister really means is despite being worse off for up to four years of an adult dependent’s post-secondary education, she is guessing that thousands of New Brunswick families will be able to figure it out.  It’s a $1.6 million gamble that affects the post-secondary education of almost 4,500 young adults and the financial well-being of their families.

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