Students facing a mountain of debt

Prospect of debt preventing many from enrolling in universities

No matter what their course major or grade point average, students at the University of Victoria and elsewhere around the province are getting a cold, hard lesson in fiscal reality.

UVic Students’ Society members dished out free soup last week in an effort to raise awareness of the growing debt load being carried by B.C. students. A recent BMO survey found the average B.C. student has $35,000 in debt upon graduation, the highest in the nation.

While the point of the message was right on target, the location of the protest was a little off the mark. Students know all about the problems of mounting debt. It is the politicians and the public who have tuned out after a decade of protests, finding it easier to shrug it off as students looking for a free ride.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Needs-based grants were eliminated in B.C. a decade ago, and since 2001 tuition fees have more than doubled while per-student funding has dropped by 14 per cent.

The B.C. government is quick to warn of a looming skills shortage but loathe to commit the resources needed to fend it off. The province must act to make post-secondary education more accessible, whether it is through a return to needs-based grants, the elimination of interest on student loans, or perhaps they could look into the ridiculous increases in the cost of textbooks, which have jumped 812 per cent since 1978, far more than tuition costs. But something needs to change or it will be the provincial economy that pays the price.

One study found that two-thirds of students who decide against enrolling in university say that the prospect of taking on significant student debt affected their decision. That hurts the student and the economy dependent on a skilled workforce.

Financial limitations should not be a deterrent to some of B.C.’s brightest from getting the education they deserve and we as a society will one day rely upon.