Op Ed: Yamamoto must face the facts
On February 1, students from coast-to-coast united in action to send both the federal and provincial governments a clear message: reduce student debt and prioritize affordable, high-quality post-secondary education.
In BC, there were events held on 24 campuses in communities big and small in every corner of the province.
What was the reaction of Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto?
Last year she suggested that the concerns of students and our families were invalid, and that drinking fewer cups of coffee each week could easily erase that massive debt load carried by this generation of students.
The backlash was so great and so swift, that Yamamoto was forced to apologize later the same day.
This year, the response was disappointingly similar.
Yamamoto suggested (again) that student debt was a positive thing. She claims that without debt, there is no incentive to finish a post-secondary program:
"I think it's good to have some skin in the game and then there's an incentive to actually finish a program."
On its face, it is an insult to students who work for years to be accepted to their program of choice, often a field they truly love, and study around the clock to succeed.
Yamamoto’s comments suggest that she holds a very negative view of students and refuses to understand the sacrifices we make to participate in college and university.
According to the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, average student debt in BC is nearly $27,000 for a four-year program. Add compound interest to the equation, and an average BC student will repay almost $35,000 to the government.
$35,000 is a lot of “skin” for most families in British Columbia.
Wages for average workers in BC are stagnant, and youth unemployment is nearly double what it is for other workers.
Yamamoto’s dismissal of BC’s record levels of student debt aside, she is also perfectly wrong about the impact of debt on program completion.
In a survey conducted right here in BC, researcher Lori McElroy studied the relationship between debt levels and completion rates. Her results showed that as debt increased, students were less likely to complete. As loan-debt rises from $1,000 to $10,000, degree completion plummets from 59% to 8%.
The B.C. Liberals are responsible for today’s student debt levels. Slashing student grants and doubling tuition fees has severely compromised equal access to post-secondary education.
There is nothing “really good” about that. Rather than deny that a serious problem exists, Minister Yamamoto—the person in the provincial government responsible for improving our colleges and universities—should acknowledge challenges and work to fix them.
The Canadian Federation of Students-BC is committed to working with the Minister to resolve BC’s tuition fee and student debt problems, but it is considerably more difficult if the government refuses to face to the facts.