A call for interest-free student loans

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath discusses the “crisis point” of affordability

 

Wherever I go to Ontario, I hear from young people and recent graduates how they are scrambling to pay off massive student loans, while struggling to start a career in an evermore-challenging job market.

For many, student debt can act like an anchor, leaving smart, hardworking graduates feeling stuck, drowning under the financial pressures of repaying their loans. Others may not even pursue an education they badly want or need, because they simply can’t afford to take on that kind of debt.

Students and graduates, like all Ontarians, are also struggling to deal with costs of living that seem to be spiraling out of control—housing, hydro bills, car insurance—and no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Everyone who lives in Ontario knows what a great place it can be, but when it comes to affordability, we’ve reached a tipping point. For many Ontarians, we’ve reached a crisis point.

The average debt-load for students relying on financial assistance for a four-year degree or diploma program is now $28,000. If a young person goes to graduate school or does a post-grad certificate, that number balloons to $35,000. When I graduated from university in 1986, I didn’t have $28,000 in debt, and it still took me years to pay off my loan.

If we don’t make big changes soon, students won’t feel like they have a future here. The government should not be making a profit off of the fact that students in Ontario need to take out loans to afford post-secondary education—it’s just not right.

Burdening students with massive debts isn’t just bad for them, it’s bad for the Ontario economy. Large debt loads hold back recent graduates from fully participating in their communities, socially and economically. Struggling with student debt means delaying important life milestones such as buying a home, starting a family, or owning a business—making student debt not only a burden for those who carry it, but on the provincial economy as a whole.

As an important first step to solving this crisis, I have committed that the Ontario NDP will immediately eliminate interest from Ontario student loans if we form government in 2018.

During my conversations with students and graduates across the province about student debt, I met Ahmad Moussaoui, a 26-year-old graduate living in Windsor. Ahmad recently launched an online petition calling for an end to student debt; his petition has already been signed by nearly 63,000 people. Here’s what he has to say about taking the interest off student loans:

“If I didn’t have my student debt, I could afford to live on my own and invest in growing my business, and maybe, eventually, I could buy a house. Taking the interest off my student loan would definitely be an important first step in helping with my loan.”

To support our goal of eliminating the debt from student loans in Ontario, Ontario’s New Democrats have launched a new website, endstudentdebt.ca, so that young people can connect with us and share their stories, like Ahmad, of how student debt is affecting them. Anyone who has a story to tell about the burden of student debt can go to the site and share it.

Let’s work together to build an Ontario that helps students put their best foot forward, instead of holding them back. Let’s work together to make good education affordable and attainable for all Ontarians.

Andrea Horwath
Leader, Ontario’s New Democrats