Tuition fees on adult education hurting B.C. families

Premier Clark should follow her predecessors lead with free ABE

By Simka Marshall

For nearly a decade, adult basic education has been tuition free in British Columbia.

That is, until the Christy Clark government eliminated funding to this program, forcing colleges and universities to charge fees to provide the education.

Adult basic education (ABE) is the provision of elementary and secondary level education to adults. This programming is offered through B.C.’s kindergarten to Grade 12 system and public post-secondary institutions.

Having affordable ABE gives adults the opportunity to complete their high school studies, upgrade their skills to get a job, continue into post-secondary education, and contribute to both the economy and society.

ABE students are some of the most marginalized citizens in British Columbia: 18 per cent are Indigenous, 20 per cent are parents, and 58 per cent are women. More than half of ABE students work full time while studying.

The B.C. Liberal government’s own statistics show that students benefit greatly from ABE programs. Seventy per cent will continue their students after ABE, and 88 per cent of those no longer studying are active in the workforce.

When the Gordon Campbell government eliminated tuition fees on ABE programs in 2007, it came after months of consultation and research, which was published in the government’s Campus 2020 report. The government of the day saw the value of an educated society and diversified workforce.

Yet when Premier Christy Clark announced the massive funding cut, students and institutions were blindsided.

The $15.9-million cut came with no prior notice, no consultation, and no support from the public or the business community.

This year, almost all colleges and universities that once offered free ABE are charging tuition fees. Students are paying as much as $1,600 per term for ABE courses.

The effects of charging for basic education are already noticeable: enrolment drops of 20 to 60 per cent are being recorded at institutions all across the province.

The government boasts that it has created the Adult Upgrading Grants (AUG) program as a solution to help students who are financially restrained get into ABE programs.

Let’s have a look at who is eligible for this program.

The income threshold for even being eligible to apply for a grant is so low that many adult learners will not qualify.

For example, a student working full-time making $11.40/hour is making the maximum to receive the full grant. If she makes up to $12.50/hour, she could receive 50 per cent of the grant.

These wages are not enough to live above the poverty line in B.C., let alone be on your own and save for school.

Charging adults tuition on high school education is a reckless and short-signed plan. Families should not be penalized for wanting to upgrade their skills and contribute to the economy.

We urge the Christy Clark government to do as its predecessors did, and keep adult basic education free for all.

Simka Marshall is the chairperson of the British Columbia Federation of Students. For more information, visit

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