EDITORIAL – We’re taxing our students into the poor house with loan debt

TRU students gather each year at awards ceremony to receive bursaries and scholarships but many must rely on student loans to get through. (Image: Mel Rothenburger)

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

MORE THAN $163 MILLION in outstanding student-loan payments were written off this week by the federal government. The money is owed by more than 31,000 students who can’t or won’t repay the money.

It’s the latest sorry commentary both on the federal-provincial student loan program and on the fact we can’t provide our students with a university education unless they go deep into debt. It shouldn’t be that way.

Current debt under the Canada Student Loan Program totals a staggering $28 billion to all levels of government, according to one report. The B.C. Federation of Students says the average student loan debt at graduation in this province is more than $30,000. Many students spend as much as 15 years paying it back.

That is, those who do pay it back.

To be sure, a small amount of the problem involves fraud on the part of students who borrow the money and simply don’t try to repay it. But the bigger reason is that university tuition, books and living expenses are so steep that students simply can’t make enough through summer and part-time jobs to pay for their education.

According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the federal government is making hundreds of millions a year off interest fees on student loans.

In short, getting an education costs way too much. Both the Canadian and B.C. student federations are demanding that interest rates be dropped entirely on student loans, and some provinces have already done that on the provincial component. B.C. is promising to be next but it needs to go further.

Student loan programs need to be simpler, less onerous and more consistent across the country, and non-repayable grants programs expanded.

And, those taxes we call interest payments eliminated.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (7035 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

5 Comments on EDITORIAL – We’re taxing our students into the poor house with loan debt

  1. Lorraine Winter // February 2, 2019 at 12:31 PM // Reply

    Jennie’s note about Poland is well worth exploring. How could we apply this to Canadian university/trades/diploma students? Jennie’s point about lowering interest rates on student loans is also A++. And, her comment about the lowly minimum wage paid in BC by big companies, combined with the fact their employees are never called in for enough hours to provide them with benefits is another thing we need to look at. Jeez, some of us are nearing retirement age. Let’s give the students of today a fair shake.

  2. Sean McGuinness // February 1, 2019 at 11:21 AM // Reply

    An average student debt of $30,000 isn’t that bad when compared with students south of the border who can rack up debt in the hundreds of thousands. Tuition at Canadian universities is relatively affordable, but nonetheless, a student paying $5,000/yr in tuition alone is still tough.
    Living costs are also an issue. How does a student living in Vancouver survive? Part of the problem is that education in BC is an industry, and a big one at that. It ranks right up there with the resource industry. We’ve increasingly adopted the American idea is that one can turn what used to be largely a publicly sponsored institution into a mostly privately funded one where one can turn a profit. The current philosophy increasingly shifts the expense of higher education onto students, especially international students (whose tuition rates are much higher, e.g. more than 3 times the domestic rate). The economic spin-off from student spending is colossal. TRU makes millions each year just from parking. If we’re worried about the excessive amounts of student debt, one should take aim at how universities finance themselves, and to what extent they should operate as a business.

  3. Jennie Stadnichuk // January 31, 2019 at 8:12 PM // Reply

    Post secondary education to qualifying students should be free as in: In Western Europe, post-secondary institutions are largely public and students pay no tuition fees in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. In the Americas, free post-secondary education is found at public institutions in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela. Now here’s something interesting (esp. considering the current rhetoric by certain USA leaders: “Americans can also attend university in China and pay approximately $3,000 per year, which is very affordable when compared to U.S. tuition rates. The best tuition deals in China, however, are reserved for students able to pursue their studies in Chinese. (Source: In addition to the above European countries, I know Poland and Slovenia also have free post secondary education for Citizens of their countries and, Poland has certain achievement standards in courses. If that is not maintained, the student would need to pay for the course(s?). This would prevent folks from simply attending school to have a good time! ANOTHER way to deal with student post secondary tuition interest is to make the interest the same as the Bank of Canada best (to institutions) rate which at present is: 1.75% AT PRESENT Prime is prime rate in Canada is currently 3.95%. Student Loan rates might be Prime + 2.5% which = 6.45%. So if the Govt doesn’t eliminate interest at present, it would be helpful to students to have the Bank of Canada rate of 1.75% payable. A big difference! especially when calculated on the cost of a Bachelor’s degree (4 yrs of study) which can be in the neighbourhood of $25 to 30,000. Another huge factor in the age of fast food jobs that barely pay minimum wage and most workers being hired for 15 hrs or fewer per week. This saves the Corporation the cost of benefits.

  4. Robert A Bruce // January 31, 2019 at 5:04 PM // Reply

    we are on the same page here…

  5. Sure…all seems to make sense…but then we all became “educated’ and no one wants to work…then what?

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