Volunteer your way to no debt - Macleans.ca

Volunteer your way to no debt

Alberta is looking at monetizing volunteering when it comes to student debt load. Why it’s not crazy.


Student debt sucks. No two stones about it. But, barring any seismic shift to universities, it won’t be going away as a problem anytime soon. There are things that can be manipulated with the current system—what the interest rate is, the length of grace period after graduation, the requirements to qualify for loan assistance programs, etc.—but these don’t really change the tenor of the debate. Or the amount you actually owe. Which is why creative solutions by governments and student unions to deal with the issue should be lauded.

That brings us to Alberta. A proposal is making the rounds that would see $500 of debt forgiven for every 100 hours spent volunteering by students in the province. Drafted by the Alberta Students’ Executive Council (ASEC) last spring, it would allow up to $10,000 in student debt to be forgiven over a lifetime due to volunteering—no small chunk of change. Just five hours of volunteering a week over the course of a four-year degree would knock off $5,000, for example.

“The ministry has been really keen on this idea because it’s not something they have heard a thousand times before and this is something I think is most exciting for them because it’s a new idea that could potentially solve a lot of problems,” said ASEC Chair Steven Kwasny, and the quote hits home the key to effective lobbying on the post-secondary education file: Give them a new idea that they can take credit for implementing.

The downside of this is the effective monetizing of  volunteering, which sort of goes against the point of volunteering. But in high school, many schools require a certain number of volunteer hours to complete Career and Personal Planning courses. In Medical School applications, admissions officers look up and down each person’s resume to tick off the number of volunteering stints in hospitals. Scholastic incentives to volunteer are already ever-present in our education system. If we’re going to insist on social engineering, can’t it help save students a buck or two in the long run as well?

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