Towards a Representative Post-Secondary Community: Increasing Access to Alberta Rural and Aboriginal Communities

September 10, 2012

On June 4th, 2012, Premier Alison Redford released her mandate letter to cabinet ministers. Among the ambitious goals presented in the letter to all Ministers, is closing the participation gap between underrepresented groups in post-secondary. One way of achieving this impressive goal is through a new bursary program, announced during the last provincial election, aimed at rural and aboriginal students. The project would start in 2013/14 with $18 million and would gradually increment to $25 million by 2021/22. The goal of this paper is to look at how to best utilize the money from this new bursary. Specifically the questions are: Who gets to access the bursary? How to deliver it? And what?s the best form and size of the award?

In trying to achieve this goal, we looked at some of the previous literature regarding financial aid, factors affecting participation, and a look at both of our target audience. The findings show that while financial aid has a real affect on access, and persistence in post-secondary, financial aid must be coupled with other cultural factors in order to tackle the under representation of some groups in post-secondary. Factors such as parental expectations, educational aspiration, and engagement in high school, all have strong bearings on the decision to pursue post-secondary.

We also looked at the Millennium Access Bursaries that were introduced between 2005 and 2009 to increase access among low-income, rural, and aboriginal students. The paper particularly targets the Millennium Alberta Rural Incentive Bursary that was not as successful at increasing access as was hoped. One such reason cited is the vague definition of rural students, being anyone who resides outside of Edmonton and Calgary.

By using the longitudinal survey on low-income students that surveyed students who received those bursaries, the paper finds some tangible data regarding the backgrounds of our two target audiences. First the data shows that those who come from rural backgrounds have more sources of income to finance post-secondary than aboriginal students. This is particularly true here in Alberta were summer employment is more abundant and lucrative. Next the data finds that aboriginal students are likely to incur the highest amounts of debt and, unlike rural students, have the least amount of income sources for post-secondary financing. What both groups have in common is that they are the most likely to leave post-secondary education without completion.

We have six recommendations for the Government of Alberta to aid with their ambitious goal. First one is to work with Alberta education to aid K-12 students to prepare them for post-secondary admission, and success. While some of the governments work is targeted at grades ten through twelve, too often students have made their decision on whether or not to pursue before grade ten. The next recommendation is to utilize the Alberta Student Loans application for accessing the bursary is the best way for students to receive the award. As for eligibility, only students who come from communities with less than a population of 10,000 and anyone who self identifies as aboriginal should be eligible for the bursary.

Having low persistence levels, rural and aboriginal students should be able to access the bursary throughout their post-secondary career. The new bursary should be limited to those who are in programs with at least two-years length, but eligible to up to four years of post-secondary. The last recommendation is to offer the bursary in the form of non- repayable grant, with $2,500 to rural students, and $4,000 to aboriginal students. Since we are dealing with two very different backgrounds, a one-size award for both rural and aboriginal students would not achieve as much as tailoring the award to each group.

CAUS recommends:

  • Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education work with Alberta Education to better prepare students in K-12 for University and College admission, educational success, and work habits.
  • Applying for the new bursary becomes a part of the same application as student loans.
  • Limit the eligibility of the new bursary to rural students living in areas under 10,000 in population.
  • Allow North American Indian, Treaty/Registered/Status Indian, Non-Status Indian, M├ętis or Inuit, who self identify in student loans application, access to the bursary.
  • Allow students to be eligible for the bursary for up to four years of post- secondary education, in programs that are at least 2 years of length.
  • The size of the award should be $2,500 for rural students, and $4,000 for aboriginal students per academic year.

Towards a Representative Post-Secondary Community