Today’s post will address the pervasive myth that First Nations post-secondary students have their entire schooling paid for in full. In reality, chronic underfunding of post-secondary costs, strict conditions on funding eligibility, and priority allocation of funds for some students over others, reveal that First Nations students face serious hurdles in attaining funding for higher learning. (Note: significant non-financial barriers exist for First Nations students trying to achieve post-secondary education as well.)
The federal government, through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), transfers funds to individual First Nation bands; these bands, in turn, make decisions on how exactly the funding will be dispersed according to federal guidelines. PSSSP covers some funding for tuition, travel costs, and living expenses. This funding applies only to Status-Indian First Nations students through their local band office. Métis and non-status First Nations folks do not qualify for PSSSP.
When asked what barriers prevent First Nations youth living on-reserve from attaining post-secondary education, the primary obstacle cited was a lack of financial resources, specifically federal funding. Tight budgets and inadequate financial resources force bands to prioritize which students will be eligible for funding and which students will ultimately receive money for schooling. For some bands, students who waited after high school to enter a post-secondary program and students beginning a second post-secondary degree (e.g., masters or professional degrees) have lower priority than recent high school graduates. Often, in order to qualify for funding, students must reapply for funding each year, maintain certain GPA requirements, attend all classes, and be enrolled in at least four courses per semester. Reapplication can take years if students miss classes, fail courses, or drop out.
Post-secondary funding growth has been capped at 2% since 1996, yet the cost of education has risen 6%, on average, per year. The federal Liberal government has promised to lift the cap, though the funding situation remains much the same. Regularly, band funds cannot keep up with the demand for post-secondary education, resulting in many applications being turned away. This has led to a backlog of over 10,000 students waiting for funding. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission explicitly mandates, in Call to Action #11, that the federal government must “end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education” by providing adequate funding.
In sum, there exists limited federal funding for some students who may be eligible under certain restrictions. This is a far cry from the stereotype that First Nations students receive blank cheques from the government.
Until next time,
Team ReconciliAction YEG
 For more information about non-financial barriers, see: Alex Usher, “The Post-Secondary Student Support Program: An Examination of Alternative Delivery Mechanisms” (November 2009) at 5-9, online (pdf): <educationalpolicy.org/publications/pubpdf/INAC.pdf>.
 Chiefs Assembly on Education, “Post-Secondary Education Facts” (October 2012) at 1, online (pdf): <www.afn.ca/uploads/files/events/fact_sheet-ccoe-12.pdf> [Education Facts].
 TD Economics, “Debunking Myths Surrounding Canada’s Aboriginal Population” (18 June 2012) at 2, online (pdf): <www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/special/sg0612_aboriginal_myth.pdf>.
 Government of Canada, “Post-Secondary Student Support Program” (13 June 2018), online: <www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1100100033682/1531933580211#chp2>.
 First Nations Education Council, “Paper on First Nations Education” (February 2009) at 34, online (pdf): <www.afn.ca/uploads/files/education/1._2009_february_fnec__paper_on_fn_funding__memoire_sur_financement_education_des_pn_eng.pdf>.
 Lenard Monkman, “Debunking the Myth that All First Nations People Receive Free Post-Secondary Education”, CBC News (29 January 2016), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/debunking-the-myth-that-all-first-nations-people-receive-free-post-secondary-education-1.3414183>.
 Education Facts, supra note 2 at 2.
 Monkman, supra note 6.
 Canada, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Winnipeg: TRC, 2015) at 151.
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