Fact Check: Liberal party’s numbers on student debt
A screenshot of the Liberal Party website liberal.ca/changematters, on Monday, Oct. 12, 2015.
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, October 12, 2015 5:52PM EDT
The Liberal Party website has a special section complete with GIFs of the rapper Diddy “making it rain” and Lena Dunham’s Girls character telling her internship boss she can “no longer afford to work for free.”
The point is that the Liberals understand how financially squeezed young people are, and they plan to help by boosting the Canada Student Grant for low- and middle-income post-secondary students.
But the claims the Liberals make to prove their point about poor graduates appear to be misleading.
The page says “the average student graduates today with $28,000 of debt.”
In fact, figures from Statistics Canada’s National Graduates Survey, 2013 suggest the average student graduates owing less than half that.
The NGS found bachelor’s and master’s students with debt owed about $26,000 at graduation -- but only 50 per cent of bachelor graduates and 44 per cent of master’s graduates finished school with any debt at all. That included government loans, bank lines of credit and family loans.
Once the half with no debt was added in, the “average student” finished university owing about $13,000.
A smaller but more recent survey by the Canadian University Survey Consortium found similar figures.
CUSC asked 18,144 graduating students at 36 universities about their debt from any source. Again, exactly half of final-year undergraduates reported having any debt.
Among those with loans, the average student owed $26,819, but after the debtless 50 per cent were included, the “average student” owed $13,331, according to CUSC.
So where did the $28,000 figure come from?
The Canadian Federation of Students, a national student lobby group that fights against rising tuition fees, frequently talks about an “average debt load” of $28,000.
Again, the “debt load” only applies to students who have debt. CFS’s recent report on the Impact of Student Debt clarifies that the $28,000 figure they use only includes the less than half of students who get the Canada Student Grant.
Another claim on the Liberal post-secondary education section is that “Under (Conservative Leader Stephen) Harper, tuition has gone up by more than 30%.”
That’s accurate, but not the full story. While Statistics Canada reports average fees rose about 28 per cent over the past nine years (from $4,400 in 2006-2007 to $6,191 in 2015-2016), the provinces -- not the federal government -- regulate tuition fees and fund universities on a per-student basis. In other words, tuition is not under federal leaders’ control.
While the Liberals got these facts wrong, the NDP and Conservatives appear to have avoided mistakes on similar pages for post-secondary students.
The NDP, which also plans to boost the Canada Student Grants program, references rising tuition but does not tie it to the Harper Conservatives.
The Conservatives, who promise to boost the number of students eligible for the Canada Student Grant, don’t mention tuition or student debt at all.