The frustrations surrounding financial aid for students may be diminished by new loans changes.
Adrienne Shumlich/the Gauntlet

Financial aid gets better for students

Student loans change to allow more flexibility

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Student loans at the provincial and federal levels are going through major changes that will be effective on August 1. The changes aim to encourage all hopeful and current students, including those that are part-time, to pursue education and use financial resources that are available.

In Alberta, parental earnings will no longer be a factor for financial aid applications. Parental income has always been considered in the loan application process, diminishing eligibility for some students. The loan program in Alberta has changed to calculate a student's need, regardless of parental income, said University of Calgary student financial aid coordinator Krista Strome. She said this change gives students more flexibility with their funding.

"The goal for the change was accessibility, because a lot of students are eligible for funding. The [Canada Student Loans Program] wants to increase the amount of borrowers and encourage students [to pursue an] education," said Strome. "There are a lot of students that say, 'My mom and dad make too much money, I'm not even going to bother applying,' and it deters them from accessing funding."

Disregarding parental earnings and looking at financial need will give many students an opportunity to receive funding, said Strome.

"They expect students to come to the table with a $1,500 flat rate contribution, so they assume everyone is prepared to fund their education," she said. "Everything beyond that will be calculated as a need."

Living costs, degree cost and other expenses will continue to be considered when a student is applying for loans, said Strome. The federal loans program, however, will continue to consider parental income as a factor, but Alberta's loan program will consider costs not provided by the federal government.

According to Strome, it is still required that students submit parental earnings and all other financial factors when applying for federal loans.

"Overall, these changes can be beneficial to students. They want to change the perception of the student loans program," she said. "It will be mostly positive in that more students that may choose not to come to school will choose to come because they will be more confident they'll get enough financial support."

On a federal level, part-time students will have a much easier time accessing financial aid.

According to a Canadian Alliance of Student Associations press release, about $22.5 million will be supplied by the federal government over 10 years to increase eligibility for part-time students -- thousands of students in Canada will receive financial aid that was not available before. These changes will also be effective on August 1.

Strome said part-time students are only eligible for loans if they earn less than the low-income threshold set by the Canadian government, but the changes include a $10,000 threshold increase.

The six month grace period following the end of a student's education will become interest free.

"They've turned the grace period -- the six months after you finish school -- into a true grace period, where students will not have to pay interest on their loans," said Strome. "A lot more students will be eligible and able to access loans."

According to Third-year communications student Caitlin Simpson said her main concern with student loans is the debt that builds up during the course of study. She said loan debt causes anxiety that can get in the way of studying.

"The biggest challenge is the stress you feel as the balance continues to escalate. I begin to feel anxious about securing a steady job post-graduation in order to pay back the amount of debt," said Simpson. "The extra stress does not help motivate me in my studies."

Simpson says lowering tuition and removing unnecessary fees would be the best course of action.

"I would like tuition to be more affordable so that student loans aren't needed," she said. "I would also like all the student loans to be joint instead of having two balances, one for Canada and one for Alberta."

Simpson also said more awards and grants would be beneficial for students in Canada.

According to Strome, there are many different types of funding a student can access in addition to loans like grants, scholarships and awards. Strome said students can benefit from accessing these resources.

"They're really supporting students in these circumstances and students should be positive that if they need help with accessing education, there are many resources available," said Strome. "The goal of all of this is the goal it always has been. If you are looking to come to post-secondary and you need a little bit of support, just apply. Students have nothing to lose and a lot to gain."