02/24/2015 10:23 EST | Updated 04/26/2015 05:59 EDT

Andrew Wilkinson's student debt numbers don't match government survey

A group that represents students in B.C. said Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson's assertion that 70 per cent of B.C. students graduate from higher education with no debt doesn't match the government's own research.

"If those numbers seem unbelievable, it's because they're completely untrue," says Steven Beasley with the Canadian Federation of Students B.C. Branch.

"Even the numbers that exist are problematic because they're based on a survey that relies on the voluntary disclosure of debt and it doesn't include graduate students or people who dropped out because they couldn't afford post-secondary."

The 2013 BC Student Outcomes Survey, conducted by B.C. Stats, says that only 51 per cent of post-secondary students leave post-secondary school debt-free. 

Wilkinson also said that the average debt for university students who incur it is $20,000. But according to B.C. Stats that's the median amount, not the average.

Meanwhile, according to the survey, 37 per cent of students end up with more than $30,000 of student debt after post-secondary. 

Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson issued a brief statement to the CBC when asked to cite the source of his claim of 70 per cent of students graduating with no debt whatsoever.

It turns out the numbers only take into account students who apply for provincial student loans — not those who take on other forms of debt to finance their education.

"Student loan management records show that more than 70% of all public post-secondary students do not make use of provincial student loans to finance their higher education for undergraduate and diploma studies," the statement said.

Wilkinson also confirmed the numbers do not include graduate students, and his office said he uses median debt to account for extremely high and low results.