University students struggle to pay for school

338

With rising tuition costs, many students are finding a higher education growing farther and farther out of their reach.

New Brunswick has one of the highest tuition rates in the country, second only to Ontario. Tuition in New Brunswick increased $175 for the 2012-2013 school year after an increase of 3.6 per cent the previous year. With the steep costs of education and a bleak job market, many students are finding themselves with a mountain of debt but little in the way of job prospects. Brianne Walton, a fourth year arts student at UNBSJ says the rising cost of tuition will force her to “sit down and really think about the future.”

It is not only New Brunswick students who are feeling the weight of increasing student debt. In recent months Quebec has seen demonstrations by upwards of 300,000 people in protest of suggested tuition hikes. Quebec students, who pay the lowest tuition in the country, face a 74 per cent increase in tuition over the next five years.

Rachel Anderson, an interior design student in Montreal, is personally feeling the pressures of rising tuition, “Every year [tuition] will continue to increase and will make it more difficult to budget.” Anderson, like many students, fears she will not be able to return to her native province for work after graduation, “There aren’t any opportunities in New Brunswick where I grew up, or any other smaller provinces,” she says, “I would have to stay in a large city to work.”

On March 22 of last year, finance minister Blane Higgs announced changes to the New Brunswick provincial budget that would factor parental income into the application for student loans. This is a move that will save the province an estimated $1.6 million on defaulted loans annually. “It’s not a good statement,” says Brad Trecartin, UNBSJ’s student council president, “I don’t like the fact that they’re saving money by limiting students’ ability to get an education.”

Students are not thrilled about these changes either. Anderson, who, despite attending school in Quebec, still receives a New Brunswick student loan, says the parental contribution factor has negatively affected her finances, “My parents do not pay for my education. I now receive less of a student loan and have to earn more money during the summer to pay for an entire year of living costs.”

Parents are expected to foot at least part of the bill for their children’s education up to four years after their graduation from high school. Many parents are unwilling or unable to help their children, forcing many students to find a part-time job during their studies, “I haven’t needed to work so far, however, with the tuition increases, I will most definitely need to find a job during the year to bring in some extra money for rent and groceries,” explains Anderson.

At the two universities in Fredericton, students are fighting back in their own way against the changes to tuition and student loans. The UNB and St. Thomas Student Unions have decided not to include a traditional message from David Alward in their agendas this year. Instead, a message explaining that “Students have been let down by the provincial government.” While UNBSJ has never had an address from the premier in its handbooks, student council president, Brad Trecartin says he agrees with the message, although not with their approach. “Just because your parents make a lot of money,” he says “doesn’t mean they don’t have bills to pay, doesn’t mean they are able to support your education. That puts may students in a tight situation and that’s something we would like to see have removed again,” he says, referring to the changes to student loans.

With all of these recent changes, New Brunswick students are finding it harder and harder to complete their education. “Yes, it’s great that we are going to save money but it directly affects students’ ability to be able to access university and that’s something that concerns us a lot.” says Trecartin.