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University Costs Mean Big Debt on Graduation

13 September 2012

It’s no secret that a university education is not free. And it might not be surprising that education, just like everything else, gets inflated in price and that it gets costlier and costlier to get an education with each passing year. But a new study shows that the cost of tuition is not only staggering, it’s 3 per cent above the rate of inflation. And that has many concerned about the quality of life that university students will now be graduating with.

The study comes from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It showed that the average tuition and other compulsory fees for undergraduates has risen about 6.2 per cent every year since 1990. The total cost per year, not including books or accommodations, currently stands at $6,186. Looking over past years, and the new hikes the government is about to pass, and that number will be $7,330 in just four years. It also revealed the differences in university costs when you compare them within provinces across the country. Looking at these results shown in the graph below, you can see just how much geography affects the price of tuition.

The report showed that of all the provinces, it costs the most to go to university in Ontario; and it costs the least if you make it all the way to Newfoundland or Labrador to get your education. Falling just behind Newfoundland was Manitoba, which came in at the second-cheapest province to get a post-secondary education. Coming in just behind Ontario for the most expensive province was Nova Scotia.

Erika Shaker, who co-wrote the report, said that the purpose of the study was to find out what provincial governments are doing to make tuition more affordable. She says that instead of lowering the costs on that tuition, governments are instead choosing to simply offer easier repayment terms on those loans, or more favourable terms, such as lower interest rates.

The problem with this method, says Shaker, is that the majority of university students are still going to enter the workforce with debt. With the pie chart below you can see just how many that is. And that doesn’t take in private debt, which would push that number up much further.

“Yes university enrollment is increasing and that is frequently used as an argument to say people can bear the costs,” Shaker says. “But students are graduating with debt and that has a lasting impact on how they can start their lives.”

But how does it make sense that more people are going, and so those people can afford the higher costs? It doesn’t really. If half of the city of Toronto went out and got the new iPhone that was just unveiled, it doesn’t mean that the other half would be able to afford to do the same thing.

And now the provincial governments are trying to unload more of the costs attached with university onto students and families – more than they ever have before. The chart below shows that while tuition costs have increased by 23 per cent since 1979, government support has gone down by 26 per cent.

Shaker says that, given the fact that high levels of household debt aren’t moving across the country, and the fact that incomes also remain stagnant, “we’re looking to graduate a generation that starts out on very shaky ground.”

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