© Telegram photo
Minister of Education Clyde Jackman is seen on Thursday.
By Cory Hurley
Star Staff Writer
and Barb Sweet
Investment in post-secondary students is an investment in the province’s future, says Nick Mercer.
The vice-president external for the Grenfell Campus Student Union certainly feels the provincial government has taken significant strides toward a better outlook for Newfoundland and Labrador.
The province will eliminate provincial student loans and replace them with non-repayable, up-front grants. Budget 2014 commits $14.7 million for two years to complete the conversion of student loans to grants, with a projected investment of about $50.6 million over five years.
“We have always advocated that when you reduce student debt, everybody in the province is going to do better,” Mercer said.
The average student debt in the province is about $20,000, according to Mercer, and prevents young people from starting families, buying homes, and contributing to the economy.
Provincial student loans account for 40 per cent of a student’s government borrowing — the remaining 60 per cent is provided through the federal Canada Student Loans Program.
As of Aug. 1, the provincial student loan will be decreased by $20 per week of study, and the grant portion will be increased by $20.
Students would then be eligible to receive up to $40 per week of study in the form of a loan and $100 per week of study in a grant.
Qualifying for the grant won’t change — students must be from the province and meet financial need criteria.
According to the province, a student at College of the North Atlantic completing a one-year program will benefit by having his/her average student loan monthly payments reduced by 42.1 per cent — from $113 per month to $67 per month.
A student at Memorial University completing a four-year program will benefit by having his/her average student loan monthly payments reduced by 44.4 per cent — from $300 per month to $167 per month.
The province is also continuing the tuition freeze for students attending Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic by investing an additional $5.1 million this year.
This is a measure that Mercer believes will help the province’s declining population.
“We believe that our most attractive immigration policy is our accessible post-secondary education,” he said.
“Not only does it attract students from other provinces, it attracts students internationally, and it will go a long way toward helping this province attract and retain youth.”
Budget 2014 provides over $19 million in infrastructure funding for Memorial University, including $5 million to support continued modernization of the university’s older student residences and $2.6 million for ongoing modernization of science labs.
The province is spending $4 million for infrastructure at College of the North Atlantic, including $1.5 million for a medical sciences lab at the Grand Falls-Windsor campus and $1.7 million for industrial shop modernization at college campuses.
Budget 2014 also has $4.1 million to support apprentices and trades in this province.
In total, more than $358 million for Memorial University and $67 million for College of the North Atlantic was included in the budget.