Kristianne Hendricks’s recent $1,000 contest winnings are a mere drop in the bucket of her massive student debt.
She was one of 30 winners in the 30 Drops Out of the Bucket contest, which handed out $1,000 cheques to current and former University of the Fraser Valley students with the highest debt loads. The contest was put on by UFV’s Faculty and Staff Association (FSA).
The contest was open to all current and former UFV students who have completed a course since Sept. 1, 2005.
The total debt of the 223 entrants was $7,071,804, averaging out to $31,712 each. The average debt among the 30 winners was $83,000.
Of the 223 entrants in the contest, Hendricks had the highest debt: $169,545.
Hendricks, 36, has racked up the debt over the last seven years while studying for her undergraduate degree at UFV (a sociology anthropology major with a geography minor, an associate degree in international development studies, and a certificate in Spanish as a second language) and a master’s in geography at Simon Fraser University, which she recently completed.
“I have a lot of debt but I have a lot of papers to show for it,” she said.
Hendricks completed these degrees while also supporting herself and her three children as a single mother, without any financial support from her family, she said. She qualified for more loans than the typical student due to her situation but said she hadn’t realized it was as high as it was until she applied for the 30 Drops contest.
“I can’t get by without it, so I needed the loans but then it just adds up and adds up and adds up. And I have honestly just put it out of my mind completely because if I think about it I won’t be able to do anything because I’ll be so stressed out,” she said.
Hendricks is now in talks with a number of different universities where she is considering pursuing a PhD. She hopes whichever she chooses will provide her with enough income to begin paying off her debt.
Hendricks said she was happy to see UFV’s FSA doing something tangible to both combat and raise awareness of student debt in the province.
She said she would love to see university become free for everyone but realizes that may not happen for a long time. In the meantime, she said the province should provide grants so students like her can graduate with “a realistic amount of debt.”
She said her debt load is not realistic.
She would not say how she would be voting in the upcoming May 9 provincial election but said her student debt “will definitely impact” how she votes.
FSA president Sean Parkinson said he was inspired to hold the contest by Okanagan College, which did the same thing last year.
He said he hoped it would spark conversations and spread awareness of just how expensive post-secondary school is these days. He said he has seen students taking longer and longer to complete degrees over the years, as they are forced to work part-time jobs while studying.
Parkinson expected to see high debt loads from entrants in the competition but was “blown away” by the results.
“I don’t think people realize these debts are really punishing,” he said.
He said the rising cost of post-secondary education is especially troubling given its increased importance in finding a good career.
Parkinson put the blame for rising costs at the feet of the provincial government, which has reduced the share of school costs it covers.
“But they take their marching orders from the public,” he said.
Parkinson, like Hendricks, said he would like to see university education become free but acknowledged that may be a far-off dream for now. In the meantime, he said he would like to see student loans become interest-free and perhaps the first year of university become free.
Since Parkinson spoke to The News, the BC NDP released their election platform which includes interest-free student loans.
Former UFV instructor and incumbent MLA Darryl Plecas in the school’s Abbotsford South riding did not respond by press deadline to an interview request to defend his BC Liberal government’s record on post-secondary education.