Debt relief changes announced

By Natalie Sit

The Alberta government is limiting the debt post-secondary students can accumulate over an academic year.

Any post-secondary student who receives an Alberta Student Loan after Aug. 1, 2001 can only accumulate $5,000 in Alberta Student Loans over an academic year. The rest of the loan will be automatically remitted by the provincial government. The program will provide two relief payments–one after the first-year of study, provided it is the first time they are attending a post-secondary institute and one after convocation. If a student’s Alberta and Canada Student Loan exceed $5,000, students may be eligible for further assistance only on their provincial loan.

"Certain governments tend to listen more during election time and in many ways it’s why [the Council of Alberta University Students] was listened to and the Students’ Union was listened to," said SU Vice-president External Duncan Wojtaszek. "This isn’t increasing the government budget on remission. Typically it was half-underused every year. It’s a good choice made by the Ministry of Learning for students." Alberta Learning Communications Officer Randy Kilburn believes the announcement was not related to the election, but to the needs communicated by student governments.

"It was very, very clear that the government needed to find a simpler way to offer loan reduction to students who really need it," said Kilburn. "In the past, some students didn’t apply for remission and missed out on a really valuable benefit. The government is very committed to ensuring that post-secondary education remains universally affordable."

According to Wojtaszek, there is a potential downside to the new benefits.

"It’s encouraging you to go into more and more debt," said Wojtaszek. "You have to get over $5,000 in needs assessed every year in order to qualify for the program. That’s encouraging you to go at least $20,000 over in debt in order to qualify for the program."

The provincial government also stands to benefit from the change. Money saved from remission promotion and loan servicing costs will allow the government to put more resources into student financial assistance.
Currently, the government has budgeted $39 million for remission and $70 million for the upcoming school year.
Wojtaszek also plans to lobby for other changes to the student loan program. He wants to end the requirement of parental contribution to student loan applications and promote a new way of assessing needs based on location.

"Many students are going without post-secondary education or they turn to private debt," said Wojtaszek. "[Then] you don’t qualify for remission."