Originally published in The Winnipeg Free Press
By Brianne Goertzen
‘Post-secondary education." Just saying the words evokes many reactions from people from all walks of life.
There are those who are able to afford to pursue it and who often take that privilege for granted. And there are those who cannot. The nameless, faceless youth who are all but forgotten when governments are looking to make cuts or raise tuition fees — as our government just alluded to.
They are the youth who struggle to gain access to post-secondary education. They are the students from low- and middle-income families who take on large amounts of debt, approximately $19,000 to be exact, to pursue post-secondary education in Manitoba.
And for youth born into poverty, those raised in working-poor households, debt aversion is the No. 1 reason why they will not pursue post-secondary education. Why? Because they know first-hand the consequences of having no money, and it’s hard to imagine surviving with the added debt.
I could spend the rest of this article listing study after study that demonstrates the socio-economic benefits of an educated society. I can spout stats that point to the labour market that demands post-secondary credentials just for an opportunity to apply for a decent job. I can demonstrate the economic return on investment of an educated society. And I can even point to the ability of the often-mischaracterized arts, social science and humanities graduates, who demonstrate a solid earning potential.
But here’s the thing: I know people will be reading this piece rolling their eyes, questioning the author of this piece. People will assume I am a privileged student myself trying to justify my partying ways or looking for a free ride. Well, my friend, you are wrong.
I am a mother who has dedicated her life to social justice and grew up in a working-poor household with a single mother. I worked and relentlessly pursued post-secondary education because I knew it was the only way for me to escape the same fate as my mother.
I excelled in my academics, and my mother knew that. Instead of being met with pride and praise for my success, she sat me down and said with tears streaming from her eyes, "I’m sorry I can’t pay for your education, I’m sorry, I wish I could, I wish things were different. I’m sorry." She was proud of my accomplishments, but that pride was hindered by the reality she couldn’t give me every possible opportunity and it was up to me to take on debt or pursue the ever-elusive scholarship opportunities.
Now, here I am, gainfully employed and holding an honours bachelor of arts and a master of arts degree. And I am fighting every day for youth who come from similar walks of life as mine, for any youth who is hindered by the implicit and explicit systemic barriers to access education. If legislation is eliminated that protects domestic students’ tuition fees and if the government decides to keep pace with the national average for tuition, I know I will have to sit my son down and tell him, "I’m sorry I can’t pay for your education, I’m sorry, I wish I could but we can’t." My husband and I live within our means and work very hard to provide for our son, but no matter how many more sacrifices we make, we will not be able to fund our son’s education.
Therefore, I am proud to say on Nov. 2 I will stand alongside students from across Manitoba to prioritize post-secondary education and keep tuition regulated.
On Nov. 2, I’m going all out for education because as a taxpaying, "middle-class" citizen and mother, I believe in the power of education.
Education saved my life. Education gave me opportunity. Education must remain a public good.
Brianne Goertzen is a River East School Division trustee, and she works as the Manitoba organizer for the Canadian Federation of Students — Manitoba. She is also the vice-chairwoman for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — Manitoba steering committee.