NEW WESTMINSTER—As students across the province head to college and university campuses today, for most, there is a mix of excitement for their first “real” back to school experience since the start of the pandemic and the worry about the high costs of school.
Accessing education is increasingly unaffordable; increasing tuition fees and costs of living and a lack of adequate public funding has resulted in students and their families taking on huge amounts of debt.
“It’s time we invest in students, they are our future nurses, and scientists and trades workers," said Melissa Chirino, Chairperson of the BC Federation of Students. “The funding crisis is forcing students deep into debt before even getting a start on life. Young graduates are putting off major milestones like starting a family or buying a house.”
Tuition fees have skyrocketed over the last two decades, more than doubling since 2001. In 2019 student loan debt in BC alone totaled nearly $4.5 billion, with the average student loan debt after a four-year degree reaching more than $30,000.
After years of funding cuts, the post-secondary system in BC has been left underfunded. In recent years, the proportion of public funding has dropped to less than 44% of institutions’ total operating revenue, down from more than 80% in the 1980s and 90% in the 1970s. The proportion of tuition fee revenue makes up 48% and now surpasses the government’s funding – this constitutes a massive divestment in public education and plays a large role in making education inaccessible to young people today.
The introduction of the BC Access Grant, an upfront, needs-based grant, in 2020 and the undertaking of a funding review of the province’s public post-secondary institutions are steps in the right direction, but more needs to be done to establish a plan to freeze and progressively reduce fees in the future.
“Without additional funding institutions will continue to rely on increasing tuition fees and using students and their families to make up for a lack of proper funding,” said Chirino. “Students shouldn’t have to take on so much debt in order to access education.”
The federal government can help relieve the debt problem for students as well. In 2020, the Canada Student Grants were doubled as an effort to support students during the pandemic. The accrual of interest on federal student loans, which further exacerbates the financial pressures faced by students struggling to pay for their education, was also paused until March 2023. With the total student loan debt in Canada reaching more than $22.3 billion in 2020, it’s clear that these measures should be made permanent.
Students need support now more than ever. It’s time to ensure the post-secondary system is properly funded and that students who need to borrow money to access education aren’t unfairly penalized. It’s time to invest in students – they are our future.
Want to learn more?
You can also learn more about our Knock Out Interest campaign and join thousands of other students in calling on Justin Trudeau to take action and eliminate the accrual of interest on federal student loans for good.
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