Loan eligibility hurts students paying their own way

N.B. opposition parties promise to remove parental requirement, but N.S. government has no plan to make the change

Kelsey Stevenson receives so little from Nova Scotia’s provincial student loan system that she needs to work many hours on top of attending classes.

“My parents paid for my first year as a gift but the last three years have been me,” says Stevenson, a fourth-year student at Dalhousie University. “I’ve had to work and the job I had for my first three years of my degree was the most stressful thing of my life.”

Kelsey Stevenson pays the majority of her education herself because she is not eligible for a provincial loan. (Photo: Emily Hiltz)

Her parents no longer help pay for her education. But the province assumes they do when it calculates Stevenson’s eligibility for a provincial student loan. The provincial government expects parents who earn over a minimum amount to fund a portion of their child’s university education. When they don’t, it can leave a student struggling to pay his or her bills.

But the situation for New Brunswick students could be made a lot easier if one of the province’s opposition parties were to win power in the next provincial election.

The Liberal and NDP parties in New Brunswick have promised to remove parental contributions from the provincial student loan application process. This means a parent’s high income would have no effect on the eligibility of a student for a provincial loan.

Though the Liberal and NDP parties in New Brunswick are pushing the governing Progressive Conservatives to enact the move, representatives of Nova Scotia’s ruling Liberal party say they won’t make this change any time soon in this province.

“It’s not being considered at this time because nobody has raised it with us,” says Ava Czapalay, senior executive director for higher education for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. “The student groups haven’t raised it as a priority and it just hasn’t been brought forward.”

Stevenson describes the job she had to work during her first three years of university as a high pressure environment.

“I was working five days a week on top of doing school five days a week. It was not fun and it sucked. I remember being in my bedroom second year and not knowing how I was going to be able to get up the next morning.”

Stevenson says she would have an eight-hour day of class and then work six hours after that. She says her class work suffered, but her health suffered more because she wouldn’t sleep until all her school work was done.

“I was sleeping four hours a night because I was working until two or three in the morning on class work, because I wasn’t getting home from work until 12:30 a.m. It was the worst.”

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Though removing parental contributions from the student loan application process won’t be happening soon in Nova Scotia, the new provincial government has made a number of other commitments for student assistance. The province expects to implement its major commitment, to remove interest off student loans, this spring.

“Students have indicated that they’re interested in affordability when they go into repayment,” says Carol Lowthers, director of student assistance for the Department of Education. “The government has committed that over the next period of time we will work towards taking the interest off the student loan which will reduce the students’ payment on the Nova Scotia loan.”

Though this will help many students pay off their debt, those who are not eligible for provincial loans because of their parent’s income will still be without assistance.

Kailee Ingram is in her first year of her Bachelor of Education at Crandall University in New Brunswick. Any relaxation of eligibility rules won’t affect her, however, as she must apply for student loans provincially because she is from Nova Scotia.

“In previous years it was because my parents’ income was too high for me to be able to get a Nova Scotia student loan, but they don’t take into account how many children that one family has going to school at the same time,” says Ingram.

This year Ingram wasn’t eligible for a student loan because of her own income.

“I worked out west during the summer but I’m also going to school straight for a year and a half so that money is insufficient for the whole amount of time.”

She says having a provincial student loan would be easier on her family because they wouldn’t have had to take out extra loans to support their children. Her debt is now with her parents instead of the province.

The government in Nova Scotia says it will continue to provide bursaries for university students in Nova Scotia and for those out of province as well. They will also provide about 300 scholarships to graduate students annually. These scholarships are likely to be in the range of $10,000 each. The implementation of these scholarships is likely to be in the 2014/2015 year.