Letter: Tuition changes a good call by government

Improving education will have a payoff.

Dear Editor,

Thank goodness that our provincial government has decided to re-open the doors for the many people in our province who need a bit more education to be able to get a job, get off welfare, and contribute positively to our economy and our communities. Adult basic education and English language learning will once again be tuition-free, so that those who need these classes most will once again be able to take them. When the previous government imposed tuition fees on these essential programs, enrolment dropped 35 per cent province-wide. As Minister Rob Fleming said in the government’s press release on Tuesday, “…tuition fees on ABE and ELL programs shut people out. We’re re-opening those doors. Now any British Columbian can go back to school free of charge, upgrade their skills and build a better life for themselves and their families.”

If you know someone whose English and math skills aren’t great, let them know – Kwantlen Polytechnic University offers ABE and ELL programs as part of its mandate to serve the region. They can come to Kwantlen to get the upgrading they need. Kwantlen’s ABE and ELL programs have students from all levels – from those just learning to read and write and do arithmetic to those who only need to re-do a high school Grade 11 course.

Making these programs tuition-free again is a sign to me that the current government understands economics. They know that almost half of B.C.’s adult population does not have the level of literacy needed to function well in today’s economy. And they know that investment in ABE and ELL programs gives a financial return of roughly 251 per cent per annum, according to the 2009 report by T. Scott Murray et al, Addressing Canada’s Literacy Challenge: A Cost/Benefit Analysis. This financial return would come from the increased earnings of program graduates, which would increase income tax revenues to governments, and from decreases in Employment Insurance and Social Assistance payments. Further benefits (beyond those in the 251 per cent figure) would result from the lower health, social and educational costs incurred by better-educated graduates. As the Surrey Board of Trade said in 2013, “Education Today – Productivity Tomorrow.”

I also hope that our new government is aiming to make ABE and ELL equally accessible no matter where you live in B.C. Our region, south of the Fraser, has long been shortchanged in this area (as well as in many other areas). In the past KPU has been able to provide only one-quarter of the access to ABE and ELL, relative to the number of people in our region who need these programs, compared to what B.C.’s other regional colleges and universities have been funded to offer.

This government, and our new minister of advanced education, Melanie Mark, must work to fix that shortchanging, to ensure that our region can contribute equally well to the social and economic development of our province.

Geoff Dean, Surrey