St. Stephen’s University announces debt-free program for NB students

Submitted photo Students on the front lawn of Park Hall, the main campus of St. Stephen’s University.

St. Stephen – In September of this year, St. Stephen’s University (SSU) will begin offering a program which aims to eliminate the debt burden graduates in New Brunswick face. Thanks to a new Debt-Free Education Foundation which graduates of SSU can apply to, New Brunswick students who graduate with a Bachelor’s degree from SSU and meet certain basic criteria will be able to have their outstanding provincial and federal student loans paid in full.

“St. Stephen High School graduates can finally go to St. Stephen’s University debt-free,” said Jeremy Barham, SSU’s new president.

“We’ve wanted to offer that to local students for a long time – it just hasn’t been feasible till now.”

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“For years we’ve been struggling with seeing how our graduates have to sacrifice jobs that they would like to do, and have been prepared to do with their degree, for jobs that pay off their loans,” said Barham. He added the high cost of post secondary education in Canada isn’t keeping up with the changing modes of work and employment that younger generations expect.

Barham sees the desire of young people to have meaningful careers, and said SSU doesn’t want it’s graduates saddled with debt that restricts their impact on the world.

Many of SSU’s grads want to pursue jobs in public service, NGO’s, or non-profit organizations – careers well known for having salaries below those in the private sector – and it can be hard to survive on that kind of salary when graduates face massive debt repayments after receiving their degrees.

“So we’ve been trying to figure out how to work at this for a long time,” said Barham.

The school is working with an anonymous New Brunswick based donor to set-up a foundation that will make debt-free education a reality for NB students. “This is the first piece of that – and we’re planning on expanding it to out of province students as well,” added Barham.

The problem of high education costs is one New Brunswickers are intimately familiar with. All of the Atlantic provinces rank at the top for per capita university graduates – yet they also come in as having the highest year over year percentage increases in the costs of higher education. And with graduates facing stagnating wages and a workforce dominated by a generation slow to realize the changing nature of work in the information age, the idea of saddling another generation with a potential life-time of debt just so that they can meet the base requirements of the job market seems to make little sense.

Barham notes the problems with these high costs are being recognized across Canada, and because SSU is small it has the ability to create these sorts of programs. He points out, “because we only have 30 students per year, a donor can make a much larger impact here than the tiny dent they could make in the problem at a larger university.”

Barham said the government funds everything up to a high school diploma, and the market demands in order to get a good job – however you define that – you need a post-secondary education. That’s what the market tells everybody, and that’s what employers tell everybody, and yet it’s left to a high school grad and the market itself to figure out how to fund said investment in the future – which has been deemed necessary.

Most developed countries have decided university should be funded with a public model, and local and federal governments are now recognizing they need to invest in their young people, and increase the levels of education in their populace. It’s an investment that is longer term, but wholly necessary to the functioning and advancement of society.

As for what students need to do in order to gain entry into the program, the requirements include that students must maintain an average grade of 75 per cent during their studies, and complete their degree within four years of enrolment. Additionally, students will be expected to contribute $1500 per year (equivalent to around three weeks of work at minimum wage) to the Debt-Free Education Foundation during their studies – as a way of ‘paying it forward’ for future students – as well as volunteer on campus for four hours per week while studies are in session.

“We want them to actually realize the value of the degree, so we’re encouraging them to volunteer their time and commit a certain amount of money,” said Barham, adding that the university prefers the idea of students contributing that money to the next student – rather than to themselves – as a sign that they are valuing what is being offered to them.

SSU offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in Humanities, Psychology, and International Studies. For more information on the Debt-Free Education Program or their programs of study, visit ssu.ca

andrewsutton@stcroixcourier.ca