Letter to the Editor – January 13, 2015

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Affording tuition costs

There is a common misconception the average student in Ontario is able to pay for their education by working hard before they go away to school. One could argue if a student worked full-time over the four-month summer at the current minimum wage, they could just make enough to cover the bare cost of tuition. But the reality is students are not just covering tuition; they are paying for rent, food, transit and a slew of other costs associated with “being a person” that even the industrious, hardworking student described above can’t cover without being in the red.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in 1990 the after-tax income of a middle-income family was $48,000 and the average one-year tuition in Ontario was $2,500. In 2011, the same family was making an average of $54,000 and tuition had risen to $6,500. You certainly can agree these numbers aren’t rising proportionally. Middle incomes have risen about 12.5 per cent while the cost of tuition has risen by approximately 160 per cent. How did we end up with such a large increase in tuition rates?

In the 1990s, the Ontario government relinquished control over regulated tuition and universities were free to raise their costs to competitive rates compared to those internationally. The post-secondary student financial aid budget must then have been raised to compensate for this deregulation of tuition.

The assumption is semi-correct. While the current government has subsidized 30 per cent of average tuition in the form of a grant for those families who make less than $160,000 and OSAP has been adjusted to inflation, to date there has been no real correction in the up-front price paid by students who are covering over 50 per cent of universities’ operating budgets.

As tuition continues to rise at a faster rate than incomes while provincial contributions remain stagnant, students are forced into working more and longer while taking on larger amounts of debt. In 2003, the average repayable debt for an undergraduate was $20,875. Our student members reported 10 years later than they had an average debt load of $26,887. OSAP has increased its own caps to address the rising tuition costs, but unfortunately its calculations do not accurately reflect the costs student incur as a result of their post-secondary education. This is a triple negative problem: students are faced with rising tuition bills, cannot make enough money to cover all the necessities and are forced to take out larger amounts of student financial assistance.

Over the past half decade, tuition has been allowed to rise by three to five per cent. At Wilfrid Laurier University, the typical raise has been three per cent. If you are in your fourth year, your tuition will have risen almost 10 per cent since your first year. This is faster than inflation, faster than government contributions and faster than students can afford.

Over the next three days, in partnership with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union is campaigning for a fully-funded tuition freeze. “Fully-funded” might sound like a confusing qualifier, but it’s an important one. We at the Students’ Union and OUSA are asking the government continue to fund universities so that they are able to provide the high-quality academic experience we have right now, while reducing the contribution that comes from the pockets of students. We are asking that the government cover that three to five per cent increase to make university more affordable for you. We want to tip the scales back so the government is responsible for maintaining the publicly funded system. While we recognize students should have a financial stake in their education, we want a cost-sharing model that’s fair for everyone and reflects Ontario’s values. We’re asking for a time out on unfair cost-sharing, a time out on mounting debt and a time out on tuition hikes.

–Laura Bassett, vice-president of university affairs with the Students’ Union

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