The uphill battle that is student debt

One has to plan one's post-education life around the demands of student loans

In one of her first decisions as the new premier-elect of Quebec, Pauline Marois announced she would dump the proposed tuition fee increase in that province.

This announcement could signal the end of a months-long protest by students there.

As a recently graduated young adult (I graduated from print journalism at SAIT in 2009), I experience the crippling weight of student debt on my shoulders on a daily basis. As I begin to plan for my future, I am constantly reminded of that massive weight, and some days it seems unbearable.

When the strike first happened in Quebec, I took the tune of everyone else: what spoiled brats they are; their tuition fees are about half of the average here in B.C.

As the conflict went on I seriously disagreed with the childish way they began protesting. They covered their faces and damaged the attending journalists’ equipment. Canada’s student debt is too high — I agreed with them on that point. Why were they hiding from a legitimate cause? Why didn’t they want to provide a human face to this issue?

In 2010 the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development estimated Canada’s student debt at $15 billion.

My own debt fits somewhere in that incredible amount of money. I have had to change my life plans to account for my debt a number of times. I worry about putting my burden on my significant other, who enjoys a decent credit rating. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to purchase a new home or new vehicle once mine finally gives out.

I chose to leave B.C. and my parents’ home to attend school. I had to – College of the Rockies did not offer the program I needed. I chose Alberta – Calgary specifically – because it was close enough to home but I still felt like I was getting an awesome college experience.

I did have a great time. I made friends that I will have for a lifetime, I learned skills I use on a daily basis … but I also wracked up a huge pile of debt.

About 30 years ago, B.C. students paid about $900 a year for tuition. Remember that old saying, “I walked to school uphill both ways”? Well, B.C. and the rest of Canada’s students are doing just that. The average yearly fee for a B.C. student is just under $5,000, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

Right now, Quebec tuition rates are an average of $2,890 a year. With the increase they would have skyrocketed to $4,700 a year. Think about that: can you imagine your tuition fees doubling or perhaps your pay cheque being cut in half? Wouldn’t you be angry?

If I were still attending SAIT and my tuition was set to almost double as was proposed in Quebec, I believe that would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am fairly sure I would not have been able to come up with the difference.

I think about that now, as I slowly pay back the thousands I owe for my three years of education to become a journalist.

I understand I earned my debt and my diploma at the same time. I do not want to say someone should take the weight off my shoulders, but since the protesters in Quebec didn’t seem to want to put a human face to student debt – I will.

To steal the slogan from another movement: I am the 5.8 per cent of Canadians with student debt.