I think students are notorious for being entirely too idealistic, and caught up in fighting for the impossible, instead of focusing on creating the plausable. Having taken my undergraduate degree in a department that focuses strongly on ideology (Communication) at a University that is decidedly leftist (SFU), I was exposed to this attitude for many years. I didn’t agree with the attitude then, and I don’t agree with it now.
We live in a capitalist society. It takes money to pay for everything, including education. We are not, and never will be fully communist and/or socialist, and asking for our government to provide communist and/or socialist solutions for capitalist problems is an exercise in futility.
Instead, lets focus on some solutions that work *with* the current societal structure.
Take RESP’s for example. Giving people both an immediate incentive to save (tax shelter) and a future reward (matched funds at the time of maturity) is an excellent way for the government to support families who are both willing to save for their children’s education, and likely don’t have the means to put away $60,000 for each child in their family.
Opening up the RESP contribution opportunity to aunts, uncles, and grandparents (especially in this day and age where more people are beginning to retire smarter, and choosing not to have children) gives even more people incentive to contribute to society’s level of education and benefit from a tax shelter.
Another program (currently a pilot research study) is one called Learn$ave. I applied and was selected to participate in this program, targeted toward low income adults who are not currently enrolled in full-time studies. It offers an opportunity for people who would not likely be able to save for continuing education to put away a little bit each month, which at the time of maturity (a year in this case) will be matched 3:1 by the government.
Particpants can save up to $1500 over a year, to receive $4500 from the federal government that will be put toward education or aids to education (books, equipment, etc.). A group of participants (since this is research afterall) is also required to attend 15 hours of educational/financial planning sessions that deal with putting your past skills into concrete examples in order to apply to post-secondary institutions, as well as tactics for saving, budgeting, and investing. At the end of the program, participants are required to submit a portfolio of what they learned in their sessions and their plan for the future before they will be allowed to cash out their funds.
The last thing about the funds, is that the government’s credits are never released to the participant. They are directly submitted to the institution that the participant is attending, after receiving proof of enrollment and an invoice.
I think this program is a fantastic idea. The idea of having to save individually, participate in some sessions on your free time, complete a project before receiving funds, and the fact that the government has complete control over their contribution the entire time will definitely weed out those who are looking for a free ride.
So where are other ideas like this in the “tuition fight”? Why aren’t students trying to be pro-active instead of reactive? With incentives like RESP’s and Learn$ave, I see the government doing their part to ensure that people from all socio-economic classes have access to education. Paul Martin even issued a statement confirming his committment to ensuring education stays accessable (although I can’t say I’ve paid enough attention to see what exactly his plan is for this). The bottom line is, people who are serious about getting an education are willing to make some hard decisions, and tailor their lives, and yes, even make some short-term sacrifices in the interest of long-term gain.
And for the record, I have $30,000 in student loans, that at $300/mo over 15 years I find fairly reasonable to pay off. The interest rate is fantastic considering the long amortization period (prime +2.5%) and there is no penalty for paying it off early. Most people spend more on car payments. My parents were not in a position to help out with more than a few hundred bux a year, and I worked summers and at co-ops and part-time jobs throughout my education to help manage the cost. Much of the time I had two jobs. I probably put an additional $20,000 down for the 5 years I spent in school, but supporting one’s self for five years is also quite the financial challenge.
However, the bottom line is, it was a conscious decision I entered into, and one that I don’t regret for a second. Education *is* an investment. More people should look at it like that, instead of an unquestionable entitlement for any average joe to potentially use and abuse at will.