New website personalizes student debt

Ontario NDP leader wants to remove interest on student debt

Roxana Olaru left George Brown College in 2015 with a community worker diploma and $12,000 of debt.

When Olaru decided to pursue a degree in international studies at York University later that year, she tried to avoid taking on any more debt and picked up a second job to help pay for tuition, books and the cost of living in Toronto. Working two jobs to earn enough money to go to school, ironically, makes it very difficult be present at school.

“I didn’t have time to study so I just kind of gave up in the first semester,” said Olaru, who dropped out her program at York.

While her time at York ended short of her goal, Olaru is using a Ontario New Democrats (ONDP) website to shine a light on the shadows of students’ debt burdens.

“I think it’s important to show that everybody has a different story,” said Olaru. “But at the end of the day we’re all in the same situation so it can’t be that there’s something wrong with all of us. It’s a bit more systemic.”

Endstudentdebt.ca has dozens of stories of students and how their student debts affect their lives. The site was launched on the heals of the ONDP’s latest promise to students, taking the interest off of existing student debts in Ontario.

Andrea Horwath, leader of the ONDP, said that she has been hearing worsening stories of rising tuition, debt, and its impacts at campuses across Ontario.

“We put up the website to try and encourage students to share their stories with us so we can utilize those stories to put pressure on the Liberal government to make some commitments about the rising tuition fees and student debt,” she said.

The Ontario Liberals made waves in March of 2016 with the introduction of the Ontario Student Grant, which consolidated several existing grants with the aim to make average tuition free for eligible low and middle-income students. The new grant will come into effect in 2017, the same year the existing tuition framework that caps increases at three per cent annually expires.

While the Liberals are not looking at freezing tuition, deputy premier Deb Mathews told The Dialog earlier this month that the party was looking at small and predictable increases in tuition.

In a statement, the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) called the ONDP’s promise an important step, but also hoped that the party would go farther for students in Ontario.

The statement pointed to a belief among students and the public that tuition fees are too high. “We hope to see the party take a bold stance to support students in our fight for free education,” CFS-O added.

Horwath would not say definitively that the ONDP would provide debt relief in addition to taking the interest off of student loans. She said that the party is committing to a number of things that will help students find higher quality of work after graduation, including raising the minimum wage to $15 and improving conditions for temporary and precarious workers as well as interns.

“If there is one thing is that is making the financial burden on students that much worse it’s that when they graduate there is nothing for them. Young people can’t find a decent job yet alone a job in their field,” said Horwath.

At the time of this report Endstudentdebt.ca has 32 student stories.

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New website personalizes student debt