November 27, 2013

For Immediate Release

Halifax, N.S. — Nova Scotia can build the strongest student financial assistance system in Canada simply by redirecting money the Province already spends on students and graduates, according to a report released today by Students Nova Scotia (StudentsNS). The report finds that the Province’s Graduate Retention Rebate and Tuition and Education Tax Credit have little to no impact on retention, debt, or post-secondary access. By reallocating $40 million from these tax credits, the Province could dramatically improve its student assistance program to meet student needs for funding, ensure students’ parents or partners are not expected to provide support they cannot afford, and dramatically reduce student debt.

“Just by shifting the funds it already spends on students, the Province could make an incredible leap in improving post-secondary access, reducing student debt and by extension retaining youth”, said StudentsNS Executive Director, Jonathan Williams. “Our recommendations would ensure the Nova Scotia Student Assistance Program is meetings students’ needs, is fair to students’ spouses and families, and offers support through grants instead of loans.”

The Nova Scotia Student Assistance Program (NSSAP) benefits students who are residents of Nova Scotia and most of whom max-out Canada student loans (need more than $7,120 per year of full-time study). Recommended improvements include:

  • Eliminating the maximum assistance cap for students at public post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia;
  • Recognizing the rights of parents or spouses to a similar moderate standard of living and to save for retirement and/or the education of additional children, when assessing parental or spousal contributions to a student’s education;
  • Converting all loans to grants for students at public post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia, which would cap student debt at the maximum federal loan amount;
  • Better informing Nova Scotians about the NSSAP and the importance of investing in a post-secondary education; and
  • Introducing supplementary student loans for students whose higher-income parents will not contribute the amounts expected from them by the NSSAP.

Currently a student’s spouse could be expected to contribute almost half of their after-tax-income to support their education, while a parent on the same income need only contribute 3%. As well, in 2011-12 the NSSAP provided less money than it assessed 1,465 students as needing because of the maximum assistance limit.

“Right now the student assistance program effectivelyy punishes students and their spouses for getting married, and that’s one of the main problems we are proposing to fix”, said StudentsNS Chair, Amy Brierley. “If the government assesses that you need X amount to go to school at one of our public post-secondary institutions, they must provide that amount or else the student will be forced to take on expensive private loans, suffer serious hardship while studying, or simply not go to school.”

The report notes that the Graduate Retention Rebate (GRR) is set to expand in cost to $46 million in 2014 and does not benefit low-income earners. There is also no evidence that the GRR or similar initiatives in other provinces have had any impact on youth retention, whereas a 2009 survey found a significant relationship between debt and out-migration in Atlantic Canada.

“The previous government’s graduate retention rebate is a failed and expensive policy, but we are offering an alternative that is grounded in the evidence that graduates with less debt are less likely to move away,” said Williams. “Facing demographic decline, high youth unemployment and out-migration, our province has to get the most from its investments in youth and this money could do a lot if spent more wisely.”

StudentsNS noted that the value of the tax credits that the report proposes to eliminate likely exceeds the costs to implement its recommendations. Recognizing that the tax credit dollars represent investments in Nova Scotia students and graduates, the group hopes to continue discussions with the Province about how to reinvest the additional savings to support post-secondary access and other youth outcomes.

The report was prepared by Bob Parker, StudentsNS’ Director of Research and approved unanimously by the StudentsNS Board of Directors on October 26th. StudentsNS will be meeting with the new Labour and Advanced Education Minister, Kelly Regan, in December to discuss its recommendations further.

To access the report, click here.

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Students Nova Scotia (StudentsNS) is a not-for-profit and non-partisan advocacy group that represents 38,452 Nova Scotia post-secondary students, including 87% of the university student population. Our members study at Acadia, Cape Breton, Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, and St. Francis Xavier Universities, the Kingstec Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College, and the Atlantic School of Theology.

For more information or questions, please contact:

Jonathan Williams

StudentsNS Executive Director

(O) 902.422.4068

(C) 902.483.5480

(E) director@studentsns.ca

or

Amy Brierley

StudentsNS Chair

(O) 902.867.2440

(C) 905.703.6721

(E) su_userv@stfx.ca