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Student debt more ominous than getting good grades

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A survey conducted by the Bank of Montreal shows that students worry more over looming debt than academics.

Canadian students returning to universities this week are more worried about simply paying for school than receiving good grades.

In a recent survey by the Bank of Montreal of more than 1,000 post-secondary students, 27 per cent of students polled were most concerned with finances while attending school, while 22 per cent were most concerned with finding a job after graduation. Only 20 per cent were most concerned with being successful in academics.

University of Saskatchewan economics professor Kelly Foley said that the nationwide financial anxiety created by the recession in late 2008 has resulted in students becoming increasingly stressed over both their financial futures and the possibility of carrying student debt with them after graduation.

“Over the last 20 years there has definitely been a shift from this focus on education for education’s sake to education being a financial investment to get a job,” Foley said.

She said the issue is that students just want to know if their investment in tuition will eventually pay off.

“There are people for whom it really doesn’t work out and they have student debt. And they can’t pay back that debt because they can’t get a job. It’s not the debt itself that seems to be the issue, it’s really you want some kind insurance,” Foley said.

“Students often underestimate the amount of debt they will accumulate or the length of time it will take to pay it off,” BMO vice-president Lily Capriotti.

Students continuing their studies beyond undergraduate studies have additional debt to worry about.

Such is the case with fourth-year political studies student Jordan Sherbine, who considers debt to be nearly unavoidable for students.

“As I continue on, going to grad school and possibly professional college, it will be more of a reality that I will have increasing student debt.”

Garrett Oetelaar, a first-year veterinary medicine student, is also feeling the heat.

“I am definitely stressing, but about the course load, not debt yet… I have no doubt that come second, third year when I start looking at my student loans and how much I owe the government of Alberta I am sure that will become a stress.”

The BMO survey indicates that of students using loans to pay for university tuition and related expenses, such as housing, food and school supplies, 44 per cent expect to pay off their debt within five years of graduation. But according to the Canada Student Loans Program, the reality is that 10 years is the average time students take to fully repay their loans.

“Students often underestimate the amount of debt they will accumulate or the length of time it will take to pay it off,” BMO vice-president Lily Capriotti said in a press release.

“Despite their level of optimism entering the school year, many students are handling a number of priorities on their own for the first time, including managing their own finances, so it’s no surprise that this can cause some anxiety.”

To help lessen the burden of repaying debt for years and to handle associated stresses, Foley said that students should inquire with their student governments and local financial institutions about which grants, scholarships and programs they have access to as well as consult the student career centres.

The BMO survey polled 1,018 post-secondary students between July 19 and 26. It is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


Graphic: Samantha Braun/The Sheaf

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