On September 30, 2014, CASA's Board Chair, Travis Gordon, presented to the Standing Committee on Finance to highlight students' interests.
"Good evening, Mr. Chair, committee members, and fellow presenters.
I am the elected board chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and a student at the University of Prince Edward Island. I am pleased to have the opportunity to present the budget priorities of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations on behalf of our 22 member associations representing over 280,000 students across Canada.
The Government of Canada has taken important steps to stabilize Canada's economy through measures including continued investment in education, skills, and training. While there is no magic fix for long-term economic health, CASA believes that a highly trained and educated population is at the core of creating a stable and prosperous economic future. In that light, CASA is calling on government to invest in education and skills training in this upcoming budget.
CASA believes no Canadian student should be punished for working to support themselves in school. Currently, students who receive financial aid through the Canada student loans program lose out, dollar for dollar, if they work over a maximum threshold. They are punished despite the fact that work experience contributes to the economy now and to employment success in the future.
In budget 2011 the federal government made a positive improvement to the Canada student loans program by increasing the weekly in-study income exemption from $50 to $100 per week. This opened financial assistance to more students and helped foster an environment where youth seeking employment can use their income to make ends meet and not have it clawed back by government. While this investment was positive, more must be done to enable students to work while studying.
With the rising cost of education, working while studying has become the norm for Canadian students like me. In 2011, 60% of students reported working an average of 18 hours per week. Under the current policy, the average student working 18 hours a week at $10 an hour will miss out on $2,720 worth of financial aid over an academic year. For a student like me, that's four months' worth of food and rent.
Moreover, as paid co-op and internship programs become increasingly common components of education, students are now finding themselves forced to choose between the student aid they need to attend school and the work experience they will need to succeed out of school. This hurts not only students but employers and Canada's economic future. By exempting from the student loans assessment all income earned while studying, we will ensure that students are not unfairly targeted by the unintended consequences created by this policy, while creating a simpler, more streamlined, and efficient student loans system.
The cost of tuition has risen at triple the rate of inflation over the last 10 years, increasing by over 45% since 2003. In the same time, the weekly loan limit of the Canada student loans program has risen by 0%. It is time that action be taken to move the cap from $210 per week up to $245 per week in order for students to meet the financial realities of education costs today.
Thirty-one per cent of Canadian students have financial need that exceeds the funding available to them. Faced with this funding shortfall, students have only a few troubling alternatives. One option is to turn to private loans and credit cards, which have extremely high interest rates and lack repayment flexibility. A more frequent option is for these individuals to turn towards their families, who are now often sacrificing their own financial stability.
In a poll conducted by Abacus Data, CASA found that one third of Canadian post-secondary education families reported taking funds out of their retirement savings in order to support their child's education, while another 14% went so far as to remortgage their home. The high cost of education is no longer just a student issue but an issue for Canada's middle-class families as well. Student debt is becoming family debt, and this should be a concern for all Canadians.
Finally, CASA wants to ensure that students from low-income backgrounds and with high levels of need are appropriately supported. We are asking government to build on its past successes by increasing the value of the Canada student grants program by 9.4% to account for inflation since the grant program was created in 2009. Moreover, CASA calls on government to extend the grants program in order to create access for graduate students, who are currently not able to apply for grants.
The most recent report from the Canada student loans program reveals that more students are borrowing to pay for school and the proportion of students with high debt levels is rising. Students who graduate with high debt levels are less likely to buy a home, start a family, or start a business, and are more likely to default. Targeted grants reduce student debt loads and support higher rates of successful repayment. In that context, CASA urges government to act in addressing and updating the grants program in this upcoming budget.
These recommendations are not isolated from each other but rather are part of CASA's comprehensive strategy to enable students to access post-secondary education and graduate with a reasonable and affordable amount of debt. A strong knowledge economy will in turn create a strong and prosperous economy for all of Canada.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions."