Less evil than banks?

By Anne-Marie Bruzga

“Look at me: I worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.”- Groucho Marx

     The most depressing thing happened the other day: I handed in the first of what will be many job applications for summer. Oh, I’m not depressed about the likelihood of finding a job, I’m depressed because no matter what I do, I won’t earn enough to support myself in the next year of school. This means I, like most other students, will apply for a dreaded student loan.

Now I’m one of those students in the minority that doesn’t mind carrying some debt upon leaving university. And while I would love to live in the kind of world where even post-secondary education was free, I know that’s not going to happen in my university career. That said, I don’t believe the current loan process to be fair or accurate in assessing the needs of students.

Currently, the government gives single students, with no dependants, up to a maximum of $700 per month for living expenses (yes, that includes rent, utilities, phone, food, clothing, bus fare, etc.). Sadly, many students don’t even get that maximum–they survive on $500 per month. And they still live, but I wouldn’t call it living. They make sacrifices either through starving and living in substandard housing, or working part-time while they also try, and fail, to balance that job with school.

And so, this failure to provide adequate funding establishes a system where students are run down physically, mentally and emotionally from crappy food, horrid housing and, usually, a mind-numbing part-time job that over-works them. This is not a system that promotes quality of education–it doesn’t even promote quality of life.

This frustration is only compounded by the fact that you must include parental information if you haven’t been out of high school for four years. Not all parents can afford or choose to financially support their children in post-secondary pursuits. To deny a student loan based on parental income punishes the student for something they can’t control. And really, if a student’s parents are well-off, wouldn’t they be more likely to pay off their loan anyway?

Ah, but you shouldn’t be looking for logic here. This is the same system that lumps all post-secondary loans together, which means we share our default rate with highly expensive tech schools like Devry. While rumours abound that Devry-type students have a higher default rate, they do have much higher tuition, ergo, when they default (even at the same rate as college or university students), the financial loss is much greater.

Averaging the default rate makes no sense because it literally collapses apples and oranges into the same category, punishing those students who do not have higher tuition.

But that could all be in the past. With banks pulling out of the loan process, we have an excellent opportunity to restructure and reorganize how student loans operate. And while you hear us preach this often, now is a great time to contact your MLA or even Lyle Oberg’s office about student loan reform because this is one battle we may actually win.


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