Time to stop exploiting kids’ education dreams

The BC government is currently considering steps to limit the damage caused by our student loan and debt problem. Such action would be a welcome change after several decades of increasing financial burdens on young people.

Critics of the idea often regard youth as generally lazy, and prefer a ‘pay your own way’ approach to students’ funding their post-secondary educations.

During my teaching experience, however, many such ‘lazy’ students not only managed their regular classes in a regimen that included a couple of hours of homework a day, but also handled a ten hour per week part-time job and played on one of the school teams. Those kids demonstrated a marvelous work ethic!

For those willing to look, it’s evident that youth around the world have repeatedly exhibited their value to society with energy and idealism. There are many examples, from college-age freedom riders opposing racial discrimination in 1960s America to contemporary Indigenous youth protesting government neglect in Idle No More. Recently, Swedish teen Greta Thunberg kickstarted a global youth movement to protest our generation’s absurd lack of action on climate change. Youth need a challenge, and often rise to the occasion.

Students who demonstrate the desire and wherewithal to better themselves with post-secondary training not only increase their own well-being, but also add to Canada’s stock of human capital.

We’re supposedly one of the wealthier nations per capita on the planet (greater than triple the world average), yet we’re reduced to importing medical personnel from foreign countries. Medicine aside, why aren’t we training more young people here at home? Might it be because they can’t afford it?

Throughout North America, university and college tuition has been increasing rapidly, rising at a rate almost eight times (!) the rate at which incomes have (Forbes Magazine, 2018). American student debt is over $1.5 trillion, and Canada’s student debt clock shows a current balance of over $17.5 billion, rising at about $10 a second, an amount termed “crippling” by the Financial Post. The students are the ones being crippled, especially when they often must travel from rural areas to other communities to pursue the education program they have chosen, taking on exorbitant rents and travel expenses in addition to tuition.

Debt service ratios (the percentage of a debtor’s income he uses to pay off debt) should be no higher than about eight per cent to allow the debtor a reasonable life over the duration of a loan. Yet a quarter of bachelor graduates with debt over $25,000 (not at all uncommon, given rising tuitions) have debt service ratios above 13 per cent. Many young people conclude that an education is simply not worth it if it chains them to onerous debt repayment for, perhaps, decades. We may find amusement in the aphorism that, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” but the kids who do the math and pass on post-secondary study may be right to do so.

That’s why recent suggestions to cancel or ameliorate student debt are such a good idea, and are being proposed by progressive politicians both here in Canada and in the U.S. European countries such as Norway and Sweden, where tuition is free, don’t seem to be going bankrupt. Rather they’ve simply made their youth a priority. Let’s do it, too. ‘The kids are alright,’ and it’s time we better support rather than foolishly exploit them.

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