Unsigned editorial: OSAP break for volunteering clever but limited in scope

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The provincial government announced recently that post-secondary students in Ontario will be given a break on their OSAP student loans in exchange for volunteering for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. The offer is enticing but presents several questions regarding selectivity of the initiative.

Students with personal loans or student loans, or those who have worked through university to make ends meet, will see no break for their volunteerism.

One particular concern is that students and recent graduates can only take advantage of the opportunity if living in close proximity to the games. Those outside of the GTA have no incentive to volunteer beyond personal desire and it is unlikely that students can afford to travel long distances to volunteer instead of working a summer job, often necessary to pay back student loans.

It is unclear what kind of commitment is required to receive the OSAP credit, but the government will have to put a value on student volunteerism, which will reveal their understanding of student debt as well. In addition, it is unclear how students will manage to volunteer in the middle of July when they would typically be working a summer job.

It is certainly a smart strategy for the Pan Am Games, which will require volunteers. Moreover, it could be argued that students should take any break they can get on loans. It is not in the best interest of students to fight back against saving money.

However, this offer devalues the volunteerism of others who are spending time volunteering elsewhere. If someone has volunteered at a homeless shelter, a group home, a hospital or food bank for years while attending school, is the volunteer work of those students somehow worth less than the work of those volunteering with the Pan Am Games?

The idea behind this initiative is good and mutually benefits students and the Pan Am Games, but limiting this offer to one specific event and location does a disservice to individuals who actively volunteer and need help with student loan repayment.

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