Money: Learning about debt

by Galit Osadtsuk

Galit immigrated to Canada as a youngster and is now the Director of Community and
Public Relations for Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada Inc.

Many post-secondary students often feel overwhelmed at the amount of debt they have accumulated upon graduation. As the end of a semester dawns, and exams are about to come to an end, students should look forward to taking some time off to relax and enjoy the summer. However, more and more students are finding themselves using the summer to work as much as possible, in order to pay off these growing bills.

The impact of the recession on post-secondary institutions and enrollment rates could potentially make it even harder on both the student and the education system.

Still, our students should not give up on attaining a Canadian education – rather, they need to gear up for their post secondary career, armed with as much preparation as possible for the costs associated with school. Canadian universities rank among the top in the world, and Canada prides itself on a high quality level of education.

Education is a valuable part of Canada’s economy. The world has ranked Canadian education at the top of its lists, with McGill in the top 20 of 100 ranked universities, according to www.topuniversities.com. With such a high rating, it is also no wonder that Canada ranks 5th in the world for scientific literacy, and 6th in mathematical literacy, ahead of the United Kingdom for both. McGill and University of Toronto are both ranked within the top 15 of 100 top universities globally in the Life Sciences and Biomedical studies fields.

It pays off to get an education in Canada even if you have credentials from elsewhere. It could boost your career options.

With Canada in the grip of a recession and high tuition fees, it is no wonder the average debt load of Canadian university students, has risen to over $20,000 [depending on how long you are in school] according to a Statistics Canada report.

How do student debt loads get so high? Tuition, school activity fees, health coverage, books and supplies are all costs associated with post-secondary education. Campus housing is costly, and commuting is no less expensive. Students need to relax from time to time – but the rising costs of food and entertainment are anything but relaxing. According to a Statistics Canada survey, in the final quarter of 2008, “Prices of food purchased from stores rose 8.4 percent during the period, according to the Consumer Price Index”.

So what are students to do?

Since the recession does not skip over the costs associated with a higher education, and education should not be compromised, students need to equip themselves with the right tools to avoid drowning in debts. Credit counseling has become a growing factor in the lives of many students as it helps them manage their credit successfully to ensure that their post-graduate lives are not met with fi nancial woes. Rather – students are encouraged to budget properly, pay bills on time and pay debts off as best they can, to avoid negative marks on their credit reports, which will become tremendously important in their post-graduate lives.
Jeffrey Schwartz, Executive Director, Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada Inc. says, “Students should plan, set realistic goals, track spending habits and budget properly. Using worksheets and tracking spending are great ways for students to become financially aware, and remain debt free.” Students are able to talk to financial counselors, download free workbooks and get assistance with debt management through Consolidated Credit’s services.

According to the Educational Policy Institute (EPI), this recession will affect the level of post-secondary education in Canada by increasing costs, decreasing institutional revenues and increasing student aid costs.

It will also result in larger class sizes, hiring freezes for full-time staffing and reductions in graduate scholarships. Therefore, students must be well-educated and aware of their personal finances.

Students in Canada must focus on their futures, and not set aside their dreams of post-secondary education despite economic obstacles. Being aware of the options and opportunities for continuing education, in a stable and financially alert way should remain a priority. Additionally, when in need, students should seek out assistance from a trained credit counselor who can help them through financial challenges.

“To school, or not to school” – that is the question. Despite the high cost of an education today, it remains the key to a brighter future.

CNM