Diane Finley, minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, visited Algonquin College Monday to promote the federal government's efforts to make it easier for post-secondary students to get financial aid, and minimize and manage their debt after graduation.
The $350-million Canada Student Grants Program and the Repayment Assistance Plan, first announced in the 2008 budget, offer non-repayable grants and debt relief, particularly to part-time students, and those with disabilities and families, Finley said.
Under the Repayment Assistance Program, student loan repayment periods should be capped at 15 years, or 10 for students with disabilities, and payments are based on the borrowers' income and family size.
Grants will be available to some 245,000 students, including 100,000 who would not have qualified before, Finley said. Low-income, full-time students, for example, can receive $250 a month.
"If it's a grant, that beats a loan from the point of view of a student any day," she said.
Katherine Giroux-Bougard, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, welcomed the changes as "a new era of student assistance in this country," at a time when youth employment, according to Statistics Canada, is down three per cent and student summer jobs down six per cent. On student debt relief, she pointed out large student loans can make it hard for graduates to start families, buy first homes and volunteer in their communities.
"There's no question that going forward, most jobs are going to require post-secondary education," Finley said, "and so we're encouraging everyone who can access post-secondary education to pursue it regardless of the economic circumstances."
The minister also promoted the government's website, canlearn.ca, as a one-stop source of information on education savings and financial assistance, which offers online tools such as the Student Financial Assistance Estimator and Repayment Assistance Calculator, to help figure out the cost of a post-secondary education.