MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Affordable Post-Secondary Education in the Legislature

Today, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about affordable post-secondary education in the Legislature. You can watch the video here, or read the transcript below.

I’d like to thank the member for Surrey-Guildford for bringing forward this resolution. It’s an opportunity to speak about opening doors and new opportunities in British Columbia.

Like members previous, I’d also like to talk about where we’ve come from. I have personal experience, because my kids were in post-secondary between 2001 and 2013. My first-born’s tuition astoundingly doubled in the time that she attended her undergrad, and by the time she enrolled in her master’s program, grad tuition had risen by 184 percent.

The loss of any grants for low-income students has crippled so many bright citizens’ futures. One of my daughter’s friends, Amanda, didn’t make it to the finish line because of the stress of studies and living under the burden of climbing debt in an unaffordable city.

My son and his friends entered university in 2008, as the recession hit. Summer jobs were hard to come by. One of his friends set up a plan to graduate in ten years, taking only a few courses at a time so he would not rack up a huge debt. It also meant his earning capacity was depressed for twice as long as a full-time student.

[11:50 a.m.]

We do know that post-secondary students in British Columbia have the highest debt load in Canada. Members across may quote different statistics and try to paint a rosier picture, and we have to recognize that student debt is more than just provincial debt. It’s across the board, as was mentioned by another member. What’s worse is that we have students, young adults like Amanda, who don’t have enough supports to stay in school.

After incredible hikes in tuition, the previous government tried to make it look like it cared by instituting a 2 percent cap, but this was quickly drowned out by the increases in ancillary fees. As Shakespeare has said, a rose by any other name smells as sweet.

That was then, and this is now. In the 2017 budget consultations last year under the Liberal government, there was a call for increased funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — to respond to the huge market demand. It was unheeded, as this past fall the Finance and Government Services committee once again heard the same call throughout B.C.

The skills gap has been ignored for far too long, resulting in lost opportunities in B.C. for companies and British Columbians alike. The Conference Board of Canada states that our economy has missed out on $7.9 billion worth of activity, which would have also brought in $600 million in tax revenue annually. It’s estimated that the unfilled demand will result in a shortage of 30,000 skilled B.C. workers by 2021.

The proof is in the pudding. The opportunities languished under 16 years of successive Liberal governments. In contrast, today’s government has been quick to respond. Already, 2,900 spaces have been funded in 13 colleges, institutes and universities throughout British Columbia, along with funding to provide access to high-speed Internet across B.C.

This whole package will support and drive innovation and create opportunities unseen before. It not only helps the students with more affordable living while in school; it also paves the way for prosperity in communities throughout B.C.

We’ve heard about Prince George, which now can provide a full engineering degree at UNBC. That’s 70 grads per year.

College of New Caledonia has 25 engineering technologists that will be graduating each year by 2022. The college recognized they needed to fill a talent gap for technologist jobs in the north, and now local employers can benefit from homegrown talent.

Vancouver Island’s numbers are increasing by 165 graduates — as early as 2020, 40 of them readying for up to 10,700 tech-related jobs on the Island over the next ten years.

The story continues in many other communities that will see STEM grads in the fast-growing tech sector. As our Parliamentary Secretary for Technology said, the tech industry will hire as many people as we can train. The more we invest in people, the more companies will invest in B.C.

I’m proud to be part of this open-eyed government that is focused on the people of British Columbia.