Post-Secondary Tax Credits

Since the mid-1990s, the federal government has increasingly looked to tax expenditures as a substitute for directly allocated student financial assistance. As defined by the Department of Finance, tax expenditures include “exemptions, deductions, rebates, deferrals and credits” that serve “to advance a wide range of economic, social, environmental, cultural and other public policy objectives”. In total, federal tax expenditures for postsecondary students have grown from $566 million in 1996 to more than $1.63 billion in 2007.1 This represents a 288% increase and more than the total amount the federal government will spend on direct student financial aid this year. Despite their large price tag, federal tax expenditures are a very poor instrument to either improve access to post-secondary education or relieve student debt. Moreover, since everyone who participated in post-secondary education qualifies for tax credits regardless of financial need, the federal government is diverting vast sums of public funding where they are not necessarily required.

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