Student debt reaches all-time high

Mariel's picture

I remember walking across campus one day during my first year of university when a display caught my eye. To protest rising tuition fees, the Canadian Federation of Students had invited students to post the amount of debt they expected to be in when they graduated. The numbers were staggering: $16,000; $22,000; $29,000; $40,000. I was shocked not only by the sum of the numbers, but also of how common it was for students to face such debt.

It hasn’t always been this way. In the past 15 years, federal spending cuts have caused tuition fees to rise four times faster than the rate of inflation. According to a 2004 Statistics Canada report, graduates' debt loads grew 76 per cent in the decade ending in 2000.

This past January, Canada Student Loan debt in Canada passed the $13 billion mark, and continues to climb. And this number does not even include provincial or private debt, meaning that actual debt is much higher.

Student debt rates are highest in the Maritimes, where the average student has over $28,000 in loans. By comparison, Quebec has the lowest rates of student debt in the country, at an average of $13,000. This is in large part due to the fact that the provincial government subsidizes post-secondary education to a much greater extent than other provinces in Canada.

The high cost of education is a significant barrier for many who seek post-secondary education, particularly for people with low incomes and those with children. More students are taking on jobs while going to school in order to make ends meet, and often still face enormous debt loads when they graduate.

High levels of debt often take years to pay back and therefore can affect students long after they graduate. It can impact their future career and educational choices and even when they begin families.

The high cost of education also creates a divide between those who can afford post-secondary education, those who must take on high debt loads to attend, and those who cannot afford to attend at all. This divide, in turn, contributes to systemic problems such as growing income inequality.

Policies such as greater subsidization of higher education and greater student loan relief would help minimize the burden of debt that so many students carry, and in doing so, promote more equal access to education.

Mariel Angus is CPJ’s former policy intern.


Submitted by Mandy Loates on
I have to say I agree with what you're saying but how do we influence change? As a student that's facing between $75,000 and $100,000 worth of student loans, personal debt, family loans, etc. I barely have the time to work, feed/manage my family and go to school. I do not want my three year old son to face this kind of debt in the future but what can I do to change this situation in the little time I have left in the day? Maybe that's the point. It feels like people who are in debt up to their eyeballs don't have a lot of time or power to question things, get out and protest or take risks in order to make change. It kind of breaks the spirit.

Submitted by Visitor on
"Policies such as greater subsidization of higher education and greater student loan relief would help minimize the burden of debt that so many students carry, and in doing so, promote more equal access to education." I think that another way of lowering burden on students would be to stop waisting money on buildings, toys and marketing at these educational institutions, to stop running them as another business which needs to sell the product and be measured by the quantity of products sold. I know a little bit about waste due to the fact that I am employee (non teaching) of one.

To help reduce financial barriers, the Government of Canada provides both student loans and grants in conjunction with provincial loans and grants. The new Canada Student Grants program, which began on August 1, will provide more than $500 million in 2009-10 ― rising to more than $600 million for 2012-13 ― in non-repayable grants to 245,000 students from low- and middle-income families, students with children under 12 years of age, and students with permanent disabilities. Students who qualify do not have to pay back this assistance. An additional 100,000 students stand to benefit from the new grants. Regarding your point about student loan relief, once students complete their studies and begin loan repayment, they may apply for the new Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP). RAP ensures that students are only required to make affordable payments on their Canada Student Loans. Please visit or for more information on the new Canada Student Grants and RAP. Barbara Glover, Director General, Canada Student Loans Program

Submitted by Visitor on
Anybody think of lowering, or even eliminating interest on the debt itself? Imagine if the debt had no or near zero interest. 500 dollar payment on 20,000 dollar loan, would lower the loan by 6000 on the first year alone. In near zero interest that number might be closer to 4500, but that's still nearly 1/4 of the total debt in one year. Nobody is thinking of this are we? Interest is what is killing us, not the level of debt. My student loan is 509 dollars a month, with 401 in interest alone, that rate we are looking at 1200 dollars a year payment, on a 20,000 loan, leaving 18,800 left to repay after 1 year. What's better, 15,500 in 1 year, or 18,800?

Submitted by Liz on
I really hate debt burdens that is the reason why I don't really agree for a student loan application. Ever since I never dare to apply for a student loan because I knew how hard it is to pay after I graduate.

Submitted by Jozzy on
I’m running a campaign called “Student Debt 4 Charity” that acts as a creative way to replace debt repayments to banks with payments to charity. Please have a look and spread the word!

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