Student Loans: How do you cope?

File photo. (Natloans / Flickr)

Last week our student representatives and administrators gathered for the biannual meeting with Manitoba Student Aid. This event gives our representatives a chance to discuss financial topics, especially student loans. I thought I’d start my own discussion on this particular topic, and asked Ben Horne, BU alumnus and comic artist, to fill me in on what it’s like to have a student loan. “I have them and I have to pay them back,” he said.

To contrast Mr. Horne, I asked University of Winnipeg student and musician Marshall Birch to comment. He said, “I don’t have student loans so I don’t know much about them really. […] Should school be free? Yeah! It leads to the most good. […] Student loans shouldn’t have to be paid back until people get a job in [the] field they were aiming at. Maybe good grades equals less payment for student loans? Maybe no interest on them? Student loans, student schmoans.”

Brett Baloun, a BU student, recently received an $1,800 bursary from the Manitoba Government. Students in Manitoba are automatically eligible for such bursaries and grants when they have an outstanding student loan. In addition to this, Ms. Baloun is happy to learn that the Manitoba government has reduced the interest rate by 1.5%, leaving behind only the prime interest rate set by the Bank of Canada. This isn’t anywhere near the free education Mr. Birch suggests, but this kind of positive action lessens the burden of debt itself and is perhaps a step in the right direction.

“I didn’t qualify at first,” Ms Baloun said, in reference to her loan, “because my parents made too much money even though they weren’t helping me pay for school. I either had to wait until a few years after I graduated from high school or completely disown my parents, which I really wasn’t interested in doing.” She had to postpone her university education until she qualified. I asked her about the future of her loan and she replied, “If I can get into dental school, which is what I want to do, I’ll easily be able to pay off my loan. But it’s very difficult to get into dental school and if I don’t get in, I’ll have a huge debt. It’s scary.”

Mike Hayden, BU alumnus, poet, and philosopher, commented, “I think loans are great in concept. Most students cannot afford school if they, and their families, are expected to pay for the whole of their education. This said, the interest rates the government has set are outrageous and discouraging to students. Loans should be tax free. Why? Well, for one thing, students and their families pay GST on everything. We are partially already funding our own loans because the money is being, or ideally is supposed to be, created through a social monetary contract between citizens. Regardless of the fact that our loan money already partially comes from us, there is still the fact that as a society we see education as a good thing and understand that loans are needed. Does this mean we need interest at exuberant and crippling rates? Of course not! It means we need a referendum on how the loan system in Canada is structured.”

Carissa Taylor, BUSU President, had this to say: “Student loans create a system in which students from less privileged backgrounds are disadvantaged. If a student cannot afford to pay for university upfront, they face interest rates, meaning they pay more for their university education than others. Student loans are beneficial in that they allow students [to attend] who would otherwise be unable to attend university. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador have eliminated interest on provincial student loans, and this is a step in the right direction. The repayment assistance plan is also a positive step, as the government will cover the cost of interest for students who are part-time or have graduated and cannot afford their loan payments.”

More and more people are seeking higher education as high school is becoming less and less legitimate. Not only does society as a whole benefit from education, through providing the intellectual tools needed to achieve higher paying jobs which equates to higher taxes, and enabling people to make more informed decisions, it further enriches the lives of individuals who seek higher education in an intrinsic sense. Should these riches, these positive externalities be muddied by strenuous, stressful, and sometimes scary debt looming overhead?

What is your student debt situation? How does it affect your life? Write us a letter and let us know at

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 14, December 4, 2012.