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Will a lack of loan interest increase people's interest in post-secondary school?

The president of Thompson Rivers University and the VP of the students' union weigh in
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TRU International Building
The cost of a loan for attending Thompson Rivers or other post-secondary institutions has decreased for B.C. students. (via Eric Thompson)

This week's announcement that the provincial government will be eliminating interest on student loans has been met with open arms at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).

But whether this reduction to loan repayment will have any impact on whether more students choose to enrol at the university remains to be seen.

"I would think about it as a benefit to existing students and their future repayments," says Brett Fairbairn, TRU's president. "We're pleased to see that. When it comes to the calculations that students make about attending post-secondary education, there is a lot of factors that go into that: living costs, program-related fees and then on the other side, there are grants, there are loans, there's employment income. I know that complex calculation that students make when they make commitments but anything that helps and provides an incentive or a signal is positive."

The elimination of student loan interest will cost the provincial government $31 million a year. An average student loan of $28,000 being repaid over 10 years would save $2,300 in interest. 

"A lot of students, it's tricky, because you don't really feel these impacts until after you graduate," says Cole Hickson, vice-president of the TRU Students' Union (TRUSU). "But I know a lot of students who have debt and they're very concerned about that already. Especially students who are looking at attending post-secondary education, it's that debt that keeps them from wanting to embrace it and attend higher education."

But while he is thankful for the government's latest initiative, Hickson notes that the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS) is still hoping to see more action from the province to help lower barriers to post-secondary schools.

"Of course, we'd always like to see more here," he says. "This is a step in the right direction but what we'd want to see is a movement toward a need-based grant system. We haven't really seen that this budget cycle, which is surprising, given that B.C. is the only province in Canada without a form of needs-based grants."

The province eliminated needs-based grants in 2004, which was funding provided to students based on their financial needs and economic background.

Fairbairn, who came from the University of Saskatchewan, is going through his first B.C. budget cycle as TRU's president. While he is still familiarizing himself with the specific access issues of the province, he knows that money is just one of the reasons people might not attend university or college.

"What I know from the post-secondary field, generally, is that there is a basket of considerations that come into play," he says. "Participation is lower in rural and remote areas, and Kamloops' surrounding area is rural area. Participation rates are lower for Indigenous students and I'm particularly interested and concerned about that. Participation rates are lower for first-in-family learners who don't have parents with post-secondary credentials and there's the financial issue."

"I'm interested in that whole picture of, 'What does access looks like? What are the incentives and disincentives that affect different groups and how can we work on all of it?' Like TRUSU, I'm also thinking about that broader picture, welcoming each initiative as it comes but (there are) more conversations to be had too," adds Fairbairn.

Along with the elimination of student loan interest and capital funding for TRU projects (like the new nursing building), Fairbairn was pleased to see an increase in the operating grants for post-secondary institutions.

"When I come to look at TRU's partnerships, the government is our single biggest funder and one of our most important partners and we look to that to be a productive relationship to the benefit of students and people in the Interior," he says.

TRU is still waiting to hear back on whether they will have a new research chair position funded.




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Eric Thompson

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It's 2019 and Eric Thompson still gets paid to write about news. What a world we live in!
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