Student loans are a necessity for many students in Canada but the struggle to obtain them, maintain them and finally pay them back, is becoming overwhelming.
According to the Canadian Federation of Students, “In September 2010, the total amount of student loans owed to the government reached $15 billion, the legislated ceiling set by the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.”
The Canada Student Financial Assistance Act governs the supply of financial loans issued to students by the Canadian government, set in 1995. Surpassing this limit means that federal student loan debt has reached its maximum point.
This number does not account for provincial loans, lines of credit or bank loans, as well as other supplemental sources of borrowed income. The average university student will graduate with approximately $28,000 of debt and will take approximately 14 years to pay it off.
Students living away from home can expect the cost of their education, with rent and living expenses included, to soar to $80,000.
Could there be a more stark difference than the one between the cost of a university degree today compared to what it cost a generation ago? I often hear my parents tell stories of how they worked over the summer and made enough to pay for their entire upcoming year of tuition.
The student debt crisis isn’t just isolated to Canada either. Barack Obama, the president of the United States, has addressed the problem numerous times, most prominently stating in his 2010 State of the Union Address that, “no one should go broke because they chose to go to college.”
The United States aims to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Meanwhile in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in April 2015 that the minimum course length for eligibility for student loans would be reduced from 60 weeks to 34 weeks, allowing students in specialized programs more access to funding.
Sheer price numbers aren’t the only concern. While party leaders speak about their plans regarding youth education and the middle-class in light of the upcoming federal election, the National Student Loans Service Centre can still be a difficult organization to deal with.
Just applying for a loan can require you to jump through hoops like a trained show dog, with requirements asking you to prove everything from your annual household income to your continued enrolment in the right number of classes at the right institution at the right time.
Something students aren’t told about but should be aware of is how long the NSLSC will hold you accountable for mistakes you inevitably make regarding enrolment requirements.
I found out first-hand that if you drop or fail a class and it affects your minimum requirements, you may find yourself ineligible for financial assistance even if you reapply years after the fact. For new students, especially in these first few weeks, it is important that you know how class changes might affect you. If you are struggling to maintain your course load or worried about your average, consult an advisor before you make any decisions.
In an interview with The Varsity in March 2015, New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair stated that financial reasons should not be a reason that students cannot do post-secondary and that it should be an affordable option to students in Canada.
In the future, the government would do well to enhance accessibility to finances for students who need them if the next generation is to have a solid chance at gaining employment after graduation.
It’s a grim reality that a majority of students need to rely on student loans, so it shouldn’t be unreasonable to ask for a more accommodating system. The fact that groups of students can get together and share student loan horror stories should not be the commonality that we bond together over.