Education

N.S. scholarships may not be enough to make students stay

Bonita Squires says her decision to stay in the province will be influenced by her ability to manage student loans

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Bonita Squires says the scholarship has given her a unique opportunity to conduct research on children who are deaf and hard of hearing.   Kathleen Munro

Bonita Squires just hit the jackpot.

She is one of more than a hundred graduate students in Nova Scotia awarded a provincially funded scholarship that aims to support their studies.

“I found out that I had received the scholarship not long after I started and it was such a relief because it gave me the confirmation that I can make this work,” says Squires. “I can pay my base expenses for four years, which is a really big deal.”

The scholarship helps Squires fund her research with the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority, an interprovincial agency that focuses on educational programs for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

A step in the right direction

The government of Nova Scotia has begun awarding graduate students with scholarships to provide them with more opportunities for research and employment in the province.

The program will be phased-in over the next four years to its maximum funding of $3.7 million per year.

The scholarships are part of the province’s Make it Here program designed to familiarize graduate students with the public programs available to them and help them enter the Nova Scotia workforce.

Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan says these scholarships will help students undertake more research in Nova Scotia.

“Not only will these scholarships help more students and young people build a life and a career here in Nova Scotia, they will also help boost our economy as research turns into new products and more opportunities,” she stated in a news release.

Enough incentive?

Squires says the scholarship allows her to treat her research as a low-paying job. While she’s glad to have the money, she’s still not sure she can afford to stay in the province after completing her PhD.

“A lot of that depends on how I can manage these loans when I graduate,” says Squires. “Is it going to be too overwhelming for me? Am I going to have to go somewhere where I’ll get a better salary, where I can portion more out to pay the student loans?”

After completing her undergraduate degree and returning to B.C., Squires qualified for tuition relief from the government. She was surprised when she received notification that the province forgave nearly $5,000 of her student loan.

“That was really huge,” says Squires. If Nova Scotia could find a way to do the same, it would make “a really big difference.”

In 2014, Nova Scotia cancelled its tuition rebate program, which provided tax relief to recent graduates who chose to stay in the province. The province made the decision because it didn’t see an improvement in retention rates.

The province now offers a Loan Forgiveness program, but only undergraduate students qualify.

“I’m 35 and I don’t want to be paying off student loans until I’m 60 and then suddenly I need to retire,” says Squires.

She says she couldn’t imagine anyone in her age group entering an academic program without a plan to emerge “without just loads of debt.”

“You can’t plan your life that way,” she says.