Smithers students soup kitchen protests education costs

  • Feb. 23, 2011 5:00 a.m.
The Northwest Community College handed out soup during a ‘soup kitchen’ event to raise awareness of a growing concern over student debt  in the province.

The Northwest Community College handed out soup during a ‘soup kitchen’ event to raise awareness of a growing concern over student debt in the province.

Organizers for the Northwest Community College Student Union (NWCCSU) are making the pitch for more affordable education.

The organization hosted a soup kitchen in Smithers last week, coincided with other planned events in Prince Rupert and Terrace, to raise awareness of growing student debt.

According to Mikael Jensen, NWCCSU organizer, students are graduating with an average of $30,000 in debt after a four year degree. Nationally, student loans are approaching the $14 billion dollar mark, he added.

“People are trying to get an education to improve their job prospects and get out there and work, but basically people are forced to find the first job whether it’s what they went to school for or not just to start paying back their student loan,” he said.

Access to education isn’t just for individual achievement either and has impacts on the economy.

“The increasing cost of education is actually a limiting factor for the economy to increase,” he said. “All the research shows that government investing in education is actually the best way to improve the economy.”

The problem stems from what he says is the lack of a proper budget for post-secondary institutions.

“The colleges and universities are basically not actually being funded appropriately by government anymore to actually keep up with the cost of running the college in the first place, let alone expanding into new programs.”

And per-student funding, he said, is down over $3,000 since 2000.

With the interest, a debt of $27,000 for a graduate can grow to $35,000.

Living in the North also poses some challenges, even with the benefits a student might have studying closer to home.

“There’s some advantage to studying close to home, like if you’re able to live rent free with your family with something like that. But the job prospects don’t really fit with the increasing cost of education. Around here, in the Northwest, I think everybody could admit there’s the need for some more opportunities, so to speak, but if folks can’t actually afford to get education in the first place it makes it pretty difficult to get hired with places.”

Through their awareness campaign, tied to a wider-scoped “Education Shouldn’t be a Debt Sentence” campaign run through the Canadian Federation of Students – British Columbia, they are hoping the B.C. government will restore funding to the per-student core levels from 2001, and to eliminate interest on student loans.

“Numbers in our research show that it would only cost the provincial government $30 million dollars to eliminate all the interest on student loans that they provide.”

They would also like to see the federal government form a Post-secondary Education Act that would guarantee money from the federal government goes towards education in the provinces.

A NWCCSU student rep for Smithers, Courtney Berdan, also believes in making education more affordable. She went from part-time to full-time student this year.

“Right now I’m working a full time job while being a full time student to pay for school,” she said. “ If tuition fees were lower I wouldn’t have to work so much, I could spend more time on my studies, things like that. There are some who can’t afford to drop working because of the kind of debt you rack up with student loans.”

Campaigns like these are important, she said, as it can raise awareness of what the student union is doing and the opportunity for people to bring the union their own ideas.

On the website for the B.C. Government, they say per full-time student funding is at $10,000, up from $8,440 in 2001-02. Since 2001, $21.8 billion has been invested in post-secondary education. The government website also notes that every single public college and university has seen an increase in provincial funding.

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