On Campus

Student loans on the agenda in New Brunswick

Liberals and NDP want to ditch "parental contributions"

Students inside Mount Allison University's Animal Behaviour Lab (Jessica Darmanin)

Jesse LaPointe is no longer a third-year English major at St. Thomas University. He lives in an apartment in downtown Fredericton, N.B. with his single mother. He worked all summer every summer and almost 30 hours per week during the school year to try to pay for his education. This year, he decided to apply for a student loan to supplement his income so he could cover his tuition. The loan only came to $2,000 which would not even cover half of his $5,195 tuition cost, never mind mandatory fees and living expenses. The reason? LaPointe’s student loan assessment said his mother was required to cough up $4,000.

“She works like a dog… Still, I can’t see any possible reality where she can fork up $4,000,” he says. He was forced to drop out of university in October. He will take a year off to work and try for a loan again next year but, at this point, there’s a lot of uncertainty. “I’ll try my luck,” he says.

A parental contribution is a controversial part New Brunswick’s student loan process. Parents are “required” to pay for a certain portion of their child’s education but not all of them are wiling or able. The Progressive Conservative government under David Alward reinstated the contribution after they won the 2010 election. Liberals had cut it in 2007. It’s likely to again be an issue, in 2014.

Brian Gallant, leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party, pledged in October to remove the contribution once again if the Liberals are elected next September. He said it’s an “archaic” way to decide where loan money should go and counterproductive to the betterment of the province.

Last year, the number of student loans given out by the province dropped by 1,300 and, this year, enrollment dropped by four per cent, according to a report from the Association of Atlantic Universities. Gallant says he acknowledges there’s no one factor for those lower numbers but he thinks the parental contribution inhibits some students which in turn inhibits enrollment and access.

Dominic Cardy, the provincial leader of the NDP, says the parental contribution does more harm than good. He says not all parents agree that their children should be going to university and some students aren’t on good terms with their parents, meaning they won’t necessarily make a contribution to their children’s tuition even if they can afford to do so. However, he doesn’t think its removal would fix the problems with the student loan system. He wants a complete overhaul.

“I’m fairly convinced the system makes no sense,” he says.

Ideally, he would like the government to remove tuition altogether. If tuition was entirely government-funded, this would give post-secondary institutions the freedom to set higher admission standards. There would be no need for loans. People who really want to go to university would have to work hard in school and this would in turn produce more skilled workers.

“That’s supposed to be the point of university,” he says, “to get specific skills and open your mind.”

Being eligible for money is one thing but being able to understand how to get it is something else entirely. There’s too much red tape and legalese, he says. “That’s the problem with the student loan system. It’s so complicated… You need to have a degree to be able to understand what’s going on with how you’re supposed to get the loans and pay them back. It’s a pretty nightmare system.”

No one at the premier’s office or Post-Secondary Education department was available to comment.

LaPointe says the loan system alienates lower-income people. “I wish that student loan options branched out to people from all walks of life so that everybody can get a shot at it,” he adds.

He’s disillusioned with the academic world. Not only is his future up in the air because of money, he sees this financial setback as a failure and his inability to stay at STU as a loss of identity.

“I sat in the student lounge today and I felt like such an outsider,” he says, “like this bum on his iPhone while everybody else was reading textbooks.”

He says he can’t offer a clear solution to the problems in the student loan system. “All I know is that when I reached out for something to help me further my education… it didn’t help me at all.”

Mary Fahey is a third-year B.A. student at St. Thomas University who majors in journalism.

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