Student loan rhetoric in Canada often borrows from the United States. Yet even as U.S. grappling with increasing default rates, the story in Canada is different. The big numbers are still startling - the value of student loans was at $2.4-billion in 2012 versus $800-million 20 years ago. But student loans could be called a good news story: Default rates have declined since 2007 as has the average balance for students in most provinces. (All numbers from Statistics Canada.)
In their desperation to keep their student loan balances down, however, are students overlooking how much they can gain by taking on more debt and getting better marks? Many parents and students believe that working part-time while in university or college helps students not only start life without a huge debt burden, but land a job after graduation. In fact, some studies have found that students who work part-time also do well academically (although of course that could be because these students tend to be well-organized in general). Others are more skeptical: academic and health outcomes suffer from working while studying. And serving coffee can have the not entirely unexpected effect of lowering aspirations and ambitions among students.
Do students make decisions based on what the studies say? No. For many, the approach is to reduce today’s fears – graduating with an excessive debt load – and hope that graduate or professional schools will be forgiving and that employers will value the time they put in working at Starbucks.
I asked the almost 200 students on the Globe and Mail’s Student Advisory Board if they worried that working was impacting their chances later in life. The vast majority answered that they had no choice. Many tried to get work on campus or related to their studies. A few questioned whether and why grades should matter at all. And one student calculated that it was not worth sacrificing everything in order to aim for the straight As that guarantee admission to a law or MBA program. Here are parts of their conversation.