The cost of tuition will rise dramatically across Ontario this fall, after Dalton McGuinty’s government announced on March 8 that the two-year freeze on tuition will be lifted, while more and more students are falling deep into debt during their post-secondary years.
The new plan was announced by Ontario minister of training, colleges and universities Chris Bentley to a chorus of protests from angry students at the University of Toronto. Tuition rates are expected to grow at a rate of 5% every year, and according to Bentley the average college student can expect to pay about $100 more next year, while the average undergraduate university student will probably have to pay about $200 more.
This comes at a time when post-secondary students are falling into debt in increasing numbers. As of May 2004, 45% of undergraduate students finished their degrees owing an average of $19,500 to the government through programs like the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Both of those figures are expected to increase in coming years.
“I’m already in debt from my OSAP loan, and now tuition is being raised,” says Jarvis alumna, and current U of T student Mimi Duong. “I think that sometimes there is no other choice. If you really want to pursue certain avenues in the future, you just need to face the high fees and enroll.”
Under the new plan, according to Bentley, the government of Ontario has assessed the needs of post-secondary education, and is investing $6.2 billion over the next five years, including $1.5 billion for student aid.
“For every three dollars we put into education, the students should put in one, which is a fair ratio,” says Fahim Kaderdina, a chair of policy with the Ontario Liberals. “Students benefit from a post-secondary education as much as society at large does, so it’s only fair that they contribute to their own education.”
Student aid programs have also changed: now, debt to programs like OSAP will be capped at $7,000 per completed school year, and the amount of money that each post-secondary student may receive in grants is based on their family income, and is designed, according to Kaderdina, to ensure that everyone who has been accepted into post-secondary education will have the opportunity to go.
“With the grants and scholarships that they provide, OSAP does provide enough money, and plus you don’t have to pay back the grants, so that’s an extra bonus,” says Mimi.
The last 15 years have seen an unprecedented swell in tuition rates all over Canada: in the 1990/91 school year, an average student could expect to pay under $1,500, whereas in the 2004/05 year, the average cost of tuition was well over $4,000.
“The reality of post-secondary education, sadly, is that it costs a lot of money,” says Jarvis guidance counsellor Mr. Bartha. “If it’s not coming from the government, it’s got to come from somewhere, or else the schools themselves will suffer, and then nobody’s getting a quality education.”
Tuition fees tend to rise at a rate that exceeds the rate of inflation for everything else because of the costs that post-secondary institutions must incur; they have to pay for their workers’ salaries, huge energy costs, and all sorts of maintenance and construction fees.
Colleges and universities are also struggling to stay on top of new technologies as they come out: students expect to be trained on the most up-to-date equipment so as to adequately prepare them for their prospective jobs. This equipment includes everything from computers to flight-simulators, and accounts largely for the prodigious growth of post-secondary fees.
The job-market, furthermore, is becoming extremely competitive: according to the government of Canada, post-secondary education will be essential for almost all new jobs in the 21st century. As a result of this competition, some universities are investing in certain projects to try to accommodate more students, while at the same time admission is becoming more difficult.
Those who oppose McGuinty’s decision to lift the freeze are unfortunately faced with a disheartening reality: “It’s not sustainable for the government to be continually covering that, especially when you consider the government’s financial situation,” says Kaderdina.
The recent federal election could also affect post-secondary students’ budgets. Part of the Conservative Party’s platform was to relieve some of the financial burden of universities by investing $100 million each year in student support through the Canada Student Loans Program.
Furthermore, Harper’s Conservatives plan on removing all taxes on scholarships of $10, 000 or less, and providing a $500 tax credit to students or their parents for the expenses of textbooks. Both of these policies, if enforced, would definitely help post-secondary students save a little cash.
As annual costs increase, universities and colleges are forced into a balancing act between improving the quality of education, and improving accessibility to it. “It should absolutely be a privilege to those who are qualified academically,” says Mr. Bartha, “but that should have nothing to do with financial privilege.”