In the red
The state of student loans is up for review

by Ric Stryde
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 11/97) - Can the North afford its generous student loan program?

It could when the first student grants were awarded in 1967. Back then, there was only a small number of students attending colleges and universities in the South.

Times change. But so have the needs -- and the number of Northern students attending southern schools.

In the 1995-96 school year 2,052 students borrowed a total of $15.5 million, up about 100 per cent from five years earlier, when 1,107 students borrowed $7.5 million.

An upcoming ministerial forum on student financial assistance is supposed to get the public together to come up with ideas, and then to make recommendations to the government about how the program should be structured to maintain financial assistance for Northern students.

"The program is under financial pressure," said territorial minister of education Charles Dent. "It's being reviewed because this government doesn't have the funds to see this program grow."

Dent told News/North last week that the program cannot be sustained at current levels, and revisions are necessary.

"What I'm looking for is advice," said Dent, listing four main areas in which he needs direction:

  • how to continue to provide access to the program for NWT residents
  • the types of support to be included in the program
  • what roles the student, family, community, and government can play in financial assistance
  • how to make the program more efficient and effective.

Dent stressed that a review does not necessarily mean cuts. He said that the forum is there to make the program function better, while maintaining the same level of funding.

Dent did say that there is no way to bring about an increase in funding, "unless the legislature decides to take monies from somewhere else." He added that this is unlikely, because all of the other departments have also been hit hard by cuts in the GNWT's share of federal transfer payments.

"The changes will have to be made with the money we have," he said.

But another MLA is raising the alarm about what many observers expect will be cuts to the existing system.

Roy Erasmus, MLA for Yellowknife North, said he doesn't want to see the loan program reduced at all.

"The current assistance given to students is only a small portion of the actual cost of attending university or college," the MLA for Yellowknife North, Roy Erasmus, said in a press release late last month.

"This is an investment in the North's future. If you think education is expensive, think of the cost of not supporting education."

What the NWT offers
To be eligible for a a NWT loan or grant, a person must be accepted to an approved institution as a full-time post-secondary student.

First come the basic grants, which are available to Dene, Metis and Inuit students, as well as non-aboriginals with schooling in the NWT (at least three years of schooling, one year of loan).

This grant will pay tuition, for up to $1,250 a semester, and two return trips a year to the closest city offering the program of the student's choice.

A supplementary grant is also available to aboriginal students. This grant consists of a $400-a-year payment for books, monthly living allowance of $675, one return airfare for a dependant, and a means-tested accommodation allowance to offset the high rental costs of designated areas.


Primary loans, which provide one year of loans for every three years of residency in the NWT, are available for anyone not eligible for a secondary grant.

A single recipient will be lent $3,200 a year, with the basic grant, or $4,400 without it. For those who return to the NWT after completing their studies, the government deducts $750 from what the student owes for every three months of residency in the NWT. Or it is possible to just pay the whole amount in cash.

Secondary loans are available to anyone with one-year residency in the NWT, and are worth the same amount as primary loans, but must be paid back in cash.

A needs assessed loan is also available to means-tested applicants, without sufficient financial assistance to attend post-secondary education. The assistance is up to $165 a week, and is repayable in cash.