NDP promises free tuition for incoming Yukon College students

The NDP says, if elected, it will make tuition free for all first-year Yukon College students who are Yukon residents.

The NDP says, if elected, it will make tuition free for all first-year Yukon College students who are Yukon residents.

The commitment covers full- and part-time students enrolled in credited programming at the college.

“This plan will make it even more attractive for our best and brightest to stay here and put their skills to work in our community,” said NDP Leader Liz Hanson on Wednesday.

The commitment would apply to incoming students beginning next year. Hanson said the party will work with the college to establish residency requirements for students to be eligible for the funding.

Yukon College had 685 full-time and 526 part-time students in credited programming last year. The NDP estimates that offering free tuition for the first year will cost less than $1 million a year, and individual students will save between $900 and $3,450.

Hanson said students who qualify for free tuition can still receive the full Yukon grant, which provides financial support for students enrolled in post-secondary education.

This year, students qualifying for the Yukon grant will receive $135 per week, which totals $4,590 for a school year that runs from the beginning of September to the end of April.

But the Yukon grant is only available to students who went to high school in the Yukon or lived in the territory during their teenage years, and who have been living in the Yukon continuously for two years before their post-secondary classes start.

Hanson said the free tuition will be available to a broader range of Yukoners, including those who move here as adults and are looking to upgrade their skills.

Korrel Ronaghan, president of the Yukon College student union, said the free tuition will help future students to pay for books and living expenses, or to work less while they’re studying. But she was disappointed that the commitment won’t extend to any current students.

She suggested that tuition could have been lowered across all years instead.

“It would be nice to kind of have reduced costs everywhere, instead of just free tuition for the first year,” she said.

Overall, though, she supported the announcement. “It’s a win-lose, but it’s definitely more weighted to the win.”

The Yukon Party also made commitments related to Yukon College in a news release this week, including a promise of $1.5 million over three years to “support Yukon College in its development.”

It also promised to “make the necessary legislative changes” to help Yukon College become a university.

Plans to see the institution transition from a college to a university have been in the works for some time, but face major obstacles. For instance, the majority of the new university’s programs would have to be degree programs for it to gain membership with Universities Canada. As it stands, only five of the college’s 50 or so programs qualify.

To that end, the Yukon Party is promising $1.6 million to develop a degree program in climate change and to support the Northern Climate ExChange at the college.

The party also says it will consider building a stand-alone science building on the Ayamdigut campus in Whitehorse, and it will extend funding for the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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