Opening the Doors

September 29, 2016


As September comes to a close, thousands of post-secondary students in Nova Scotia are wrapping up their first month of classes. It’s a world full of new things to learn, including–unfortunately–the multiple shadings of the word debt.

Conversations with post-secondary students in Nova Scotia turn to this subject with distressing regularity. Why wouldn’t they? The average $39,000 educational debt of university graduates in Nova Scotia is the second highest in the country, after only Prince Edward Island. The same is true for the average $7,200 university tuition in Nova Scotia.

It wasn’t always this way. I’m 61. One of my clearest memories of going off to university in 1973 is the number of people in my first-year classes who proudly reported being the first in their families to go to college. That was made possible, in part, by tuition which was less than one-tenth what it is today.

This meant that I, and a great many like me–including my whole immediate family–were able to graduate with, comparatively speaking, almost no debt at all. I contrast this with the experience of my own children (for whose education we saved an amount roughly equal to what my parents had been able to set aside for us). They collectively owe in student debt not far from a quarter million dollars.

All around us, this crisis is being innovatively addressed. This year, the Province of Ontario established a system that will make tuition free for students whose families earn $50,000 or less, and lower the cost for many more. And in New Brunswick, the government has moved to waive tuition completely for students with family incomes under $60,000.

But not in Nova Scotia. Here, thanks to the McNeil Liberals’ tuition deregulation, tuition bills paid this September have been on average 5.6% increased.

A new direction is required. Let’s call it an Investment in a Generation. The first step in that investment is a legislative proposal we will be presenting to the House of Assembly this October making tuition at the Nova Scotia Community College free.

Key word: investment. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that for every dollar Nova Scotia spends providing a student with a community college education, there is a public return over the life of that student of $7.20.

We can build the future we want in Nova Scotia by opening the doors of opportunity to a generation who have largely had them shut.

In solidarity and hope,