TCSA: It’s no secret: A degree is a debt sentence

alaine debt
Alaine Spiwak poses with her debt sentence. Photo by Boykin Smith.

Post-secondary education is less accessible today than it has ever been before.

Sky-rocketing tuition fees and the prevalence of loan-based financial assistance have pushed student debt to historic levels.

70% of Canadians feel students have to take on too much debt, so why is the current system successfully making the ‘debt sentence’ the new black?

Despite almost two decades of multibillion-dollar surpluses, no federal government has introduced a post-secondary funding plan that works.

According to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), “in September 2010, the total amount of student loans owed to the government reached $15 billion, the legislated ceiling set by the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. In response, the government altered the definition of “student loan” to exclude over $1.5 billion in federal student loan debt. Even with this new definition, the federal student loan debt surpassed the $15 billion limit. In response, the federal government again amended the Act in order to increase the limit to $19 billion while, at the same time, dramatically reducing parliamentary oversight of the program.”

To place issues of financial access and student debt into an institutional context, Trent University faces some unique factors.

At Trent, we do have some of the highest tuition and ancillary fees in Ontario.

We also have one of the poorest student populations, as seen by the fact that Trent has one of the highest percentages (70%) of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) recipients of any campus in Ontario.

Ontario students have long recommended that the Ontario government use a two-pronged approach to improve access to post-secondary education: reduce tuition fees and provide student financial assistance that is premised on a system of upfront, needs-based grants rather than relying on high tuition fees that are financed through loans.

Historically, the TCSA has engaged with the conversation of equal access to education on various fronts, including working with the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario “The Hikes Stop Here” campaign, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) “Education is a Right” campaign, and lobbying to Trent’s Board of Governors. The TCSA has also outreached and engaged with students to educate them on this issue at hand.

While many students rely on loans to finance their education, CFS believes that reducing the debt cap, moving toward the replacement of loans with non-repayable grants for lower-income students and reducing or eliminating interest on student loans are all helpful ways to lower the amount of student debt.

It’s no secret: a degree is a debt sentence, but we can change that. This semester the TCSA will be outreaching and engaging with students once again on this issue.
All students are welcome to share their stories and testimonies that will help garner attention and spark conversations.

Go to and take the first step, or contact the Vice President Campaigns & Equity, Boykin Smith for more information.