University students in Canada can be expected to incur over $350 million in new debt this year, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.
The Nanaimo campus of Vancouver Island University has begun to bustle with the arrival of a new crop of eager, young minds, some destined to be the leaders of tomorrow.
While today's students have generally similar goals to those of decades past, the uphill battle against debt that many face is like nothing scholars of the past have had to endure.
A student survey released by the Bank of Montreal on Aug. 13 showed students in British Columbia can expect to graduate, on average, with more student debt than any other province.
The average debt of a Canadian student upon graduation is estimated to be some $26,297. In B.C., that number is closer to $34,886.
According to the Canada Student Loan Program, students generally take up to 10 years to pay off their debts and many still require the maximum allowed 14.5 years to pay off their education.
When 27-year-old Lisa Courtney returns to VIU this semester to begin work on her third year of an anthropology and creative writing degree, she will be more than aware of her growing pile of debt. "At this point, I think I'm at about $40,000 in student loan debt and I'm only third year," said the New Westminster-native.
Courtney began her post-secondary education at Douglas College in Vancouver, where she studied early childhood education. While she has the debt to show for that diploma, she could not find work after graduation.
She decided to keep on studying and ended up considering a move to university-level studies in education. But an introductory course in anthropology made her realize where her heart truly was.
"It's more important to me to be able to study what I love and figure out how to work that into my job later, than to just study something because it would get me a good job," she said.
Courtney said her debt would likely make it more difficult to find a job she loves in the future - when she knows the bill collectors will come knocking. "Finding work I find meaningful and not completely menial is going to be tough, but worth it in the end, I think," she said.
The annual BMO survey also ranked the top sources of stress among students. Perhaps unsurprisingly, finances led the way with 28 per cent of respondents saying they were worried about money.
Squamish's Natalie Gates was one of several hundred first-year students to make their way to VIU this week.
The creative writing and journalism student is one of the lucky ones. Her parents, Bill, a tradesman and Patti, a nurse, began saving for their daughter's education on the day she was born.
"It's important that they don't have a huge student loan, because that's got to be hard to concentrate, thinking 'oh man, when I get out of here I've got five years to pay my loan,'" said Bill.
The Gates family did not want their daughter put at a comparative disadvantage when she graduates.
They did not want Natalie's choice of what to study to be too much of an economic decision, but more of a choice of the heart.
But, said Patti, "she did look at the prices of tuition, knowing what our budget was."
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