The COVID-19 pandemic has left many post-secondary students financially strained and unsettled. At a time when students are collecting roughly $17,000 on average in student loan debt, many have also been blindsided by sudden pandemic-induced unemployment as well as long-term uncertainty in the labour market. Immediate relief from the Government of Canada, in the form of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and doubling of the Canada Student Grant (CSG), supplied much-needed short-term relief to students, providing the extra funds they needed to afford rent and groceries while still paying tuition. These funds were greatly appreciated, and Statistics Canada data shows that it significantly reduced the amount of financial anxiety amongst students during the summer of 2020. While many had lost their summer work opportunities, the CESB and CSG expansion provided indispensable relief to students across the country.
While this immediate emergency relief has been extraordinarily necessary, the pandemic, and its associated economic turmoil, persists. According to Statistics Canada, high youth unemployment may linger for years, and the Class of 2020 could lose between $23,000 to $44,000 in cumulative earnings over the next five years, making it more difficult for many to pay their student debts. Recognizing the immense relief this immediate aid has had, and acknowledging that Canada may not fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic for years to come, it is important that the federal government continue to invest in pandemic-informed financial supports, as well as additional upfront, non-repayable grants, for low- and medium-income students.
Pandemic or not, making post-secondary education more affordable and accessible for low- and medium-income students has always been a good idea. Upfront, non-repayable aid in the form of grants is a proven way to make education more affordable for those who want to attend post-secondary but may not have the means to do so. Continuing to make programs like the Canada Student Grant, granting agency student scholarships, and the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant more generous will help more marginalized students, and those looking to re-skill, access and afford a Canadian post-secondary education.
Therefore, CASA recommends that the Government of Canada do the following to #CloseTheGaps surrounding student pandemic aid, as well as educational affordability and accessibility:
- Maintain the 2020-2021 funding levels to Canada Student Grants under the Canada Student Loans Program in response to COVID-19, thus doubling grant maximums for eligible students from $3,000 to $6,000 per academic year going forward.
- Extend the Home Office Expense Deduction to Canadian post-secondary students forced to attend school from home due to COVID-19.
- Increase funding for the SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR student scholarship programs on a recurring basis so that they return to the proportion of agency spending they represented in 2011.
- Reduce financial barriers to apprenticeships by expanding the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant to provide upfront support covering the first year of apprenticeship training.