Let’s Reduce the Financial Burden on Students: Potential Solutions

Below Heather Carroll, a 3M National Student Fellow, shares her winning 3M application response to the following topic: “Challenges in Post-Secondary Education”.
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How are students supposed to focus on bringing their best self to the educational experience when there are so many external stressors demanding their attention and diluting their focus?

While we cannot address all of these stressors, we can focus on the most troublesome and the most common one: money. There is no doubt that the cost of a post-secondary education is a deterring factor for many high school students. A survey by Statistics Canada names “finances” as a barrier for 72% of high school students who choose not to attend college or university. For those who choose to attend a post-secondary institution, a common expectation, in addition to coursework, is to secure a job to help pay for their education. External financial pressures distract from the mission of a student: to do their best and learn as much as possible. From discussions with students across the country, I believe the challenges facing my peers and I are mirrored across Canada.

Let’s get specific. The lower costs of tuition at Memorial University is definitely a “pull” factor when attracting students. As a Canadian student, I pay under $3000 a year for tuition and related fees. Although financing my education is relatively easier when compared to more expensive universities across Canada, for some Memorial students enrolled in co-op programs, it’s even easier. Engineering and business students are able to take advantage of programs with paid work terms, allowing them to save money on tuition, and simultaneously earn money. Unfortunately, there are deep inequities present at Memorial, and as an education student, I am at a disadvantage. I am currently working an unpaid internship, while still having to pay full tuition. While I understand that a contributing factor for my internship being unpaid is that I’m working for the public sector (and not for a private business), my requirement to pay more tuition is sparking a national conversation and I believe change is fast approaching. Memorial University and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador are making efforts to alleviate financial strain on students.

So, where should these efforts be directed? Our government could subsidize university education to a greater degree. Even though this will not happen within my years as an undergraduate student, steps towards a country with less financially burdened students can be implemented very soon. Concrete actions could include increasing the number of scholarship and bursary opportunities that do not exclusively focus on elite academic achievement. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has recently switched from offering loans, to offering grants, and I see no reason why the Government of Canada cannot achieve the same commitment, albeit with fiscal restructuring. The recent student protests in Montreal show that these issues are widespread and while I do not support the violent nature of these protests, their cry for government to start valuing Canadian youth who are pursuing a post-secondary education is legitimate.

However, more money is not necessarily the overall solution. Students have to be held accountable, with respect to their financing.  A fair measure would be for a proportion of student debt to be forgiven upon the successful completion of a degree program in a timely manner. This would provide students with a financial incentive to complete their programs.

Although students may attain financial aid, they will still seek employment. As such, we must address issues associated with balancing being both a student and an employee. Finding a part time employer who will hire a student is only the first challenge. In addition, the hours which a student must dedicate to their employment, and the time spent getting to and from work, take away from hours potentially devoted to collaborative projects, study, or beneficial community service work.

A potential solution is for universities to increase the availability of on-campus jobs. I believe that Memorial University’s MUCEP (Memorial Undergraduate Career Experience Program) has a great model: they offer on-campus jobs, related to potential career interest, with above minimum-wage pay and with set hours that have minimal interference on a student’s academic workload. As a current on-campus employee, under the MUCEP program, I have seen how effective and manageable this program is for undergraduate students. Since 2011, I have been employed with the MUCEP program, and have developed numerous transferrable skills that students are simply not getting from in class lecture-based courses. My employers respect my role as a student, and value the unique perspectives that students can offer a workplace. Given the opportunity, I would like to see this type of program implemented at schools across Canada.

Through these proposed measures, we can help students focus on succeeding in post-secondary education and embark on fulfilling careers.

 

Photo Credit: Heather Carroll

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