Paying for a post-secondary education in this province will get a bit easier this fall and a lot cheaper in fall 2015.
Budget 2014, tabled Thursday by Finance Minister Charlene Johnson, included the conversion of student loans to non-repayable grants, at a cost of about $50.6 million over five years.
The province is also continuing the freeze on post-secondary tuition in publicly funded institutions — Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic.
Provincial student loans account for 40 per cent of a student’s government borrowing — the remaining 60 per cent is provided through the federal Canada Student Loans Program.
As of Aug. 1, the provincial student loan will be decreased by $20 per week of study, and the grant portion will be increased by $20.
Students would then be eligible to receive up to $40 per week of study in the form of a loan and $100 per week of study in a grant.
As of Aug. 1, 2015, provincial student loans will be completely replaced with non-repayable grants.
Qualifying for the grant won’t change — students from the province must meet financial need criteria.
Students are happy because they have been lobbying for grants rather than loans, arguing that will give the province a return on investment by keeping young people here after they graduate.
“New graduates will not be buried in mountains of student debts. They can start families and businesses in the province and contribute meaningfully to the economy,” said Michael Walsh, chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students-Newfoundland and Labrador.
“They can get the skills they need to contribute to the economy.”
About 7,000 students annually are expected to receive up-front grant assistance.
The conversion to a grant system would save a MUN student nearly $12,000 over a four-year undergraduate degree, roughly the same amount for a Marine Institute student, and more than $4,000 a year on a one-year College of the North Atlantic Program, while private college students would save about $4,500 on a one-year program.
Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien said he couldn’t commit to whether the tuition freeze would be extended beyond this year, but he didn’t rule it out either, saying the province will continue to listen to students’ concerns. It will cost $5.1 million to continue this year.
“It is important that we provide people with an opportunity to become well educated, to take advantage of the opportunities that we have in front of us,” O’Brien told reporters in the budget lockup.
Also in post-secondary education, there’s $19 million in infrastructure funding for Memorial University and $4 million for infrastructure at College of the North Atlantic.
Other spending includes $4.1 million to support apprentices and trades.