Polishing the Ivory Tower

The affect of class standing on access to post secondary education.

Access to post-secondary education is disproportionately denied to youth from low-income backgrounds. The affordability of Canada’s universities ranks 19 of 23 surveyed OECD countries. (2012b) Tuition fees have grown at approximately five times the rate of inflation since 1998 and, if unchanged, are estimated to exceed all other student expenses combined within five years (CFS, 2012). In 2006 families earning over $100,000 were more than twice as likely to have their children attend university than families living in or near poverty (CCL, 2009).

Getting a university education is becoming less and less affordable. Since 1990, average tuition fees in Canada have increased three times more than the rate of inflation. As classes begin this fall, which provinces are telling students to take a hike? Numbers below represent the estimated total tuition and compulsory fees for full-time undergrads for the 2015-2016 academic year. The Canadian average for 1990-91 was $1744 and in 2011-12 it was $6186. For the 2015-16 academic year, we estimate the average tuition and compulsory fees will be $7330. For more information visit policyalternatives.ca. Estimated fees: British Colombia $6133, Alberta $8827, Saskatchewan $6990, Manitoba $4400, Ontario $9231, Quebec $3664, New Brunswick $7017,Nova Scotia $7252, Prince Edward Island $6743, Newfoundland and Labrador $2893.
Image courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Please click image to view full size and click here to access their report “Eduflation and the high cost of learning.”

Those with a university certificate or degree earn, on average, almost twice as much as high-school graduates (HRDC, 2012) and those who’ve graduated from post-secondary programs are far more likely to be employed than those who have not (OECD, 2012a).

Earnings: High-School versus Post-Secondary Education by region 2000 (dollars). Earnings: Canada: HS $25477, PSE $39386. Newfoundland and Labrador: HS $16860, PSE $31361 Prince Edward Island: HS $18236, PSE $28951. Nova Scotia: HS $20553, PSE $32592. New Brunswick: HS$20395, PSE $32044. Quebec: HS $24071, PSE $35407. Ontario: HS $27606, PSE $44147. Manitoba: HS $22921, PSE $34426. Saskatchewan: HS $21780, PSE $32659. Alberta: HS $25789, PSE $40962. British Columbia: HS $25671, PSE $38028. Yukon: HS $25753, PSE $38206. Northwest Territories: HS $31603, PSE $47572. Nunavut: HS $26722, PSE $42829.

Note: Earnings and employment income are used as synonyms here. Average earnings are shown here.
Source: HRSDC calculations using Statistics Canada, Census, Catalogue no 97F0017XCB2001002.
Graph courtesy of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Please click image to view their report “What difference does learning make to financial security? / Indicators of well being in Canada.”

Independent of tuition fees, class can limit a student’s chances to even qualifying for post-secondary education as family income influences childhood development. Performance in school directly affects university acceptance rates and a family’s ability to spend on educational materials or a private education influences the quality of a child’s education making children of more affluent families better suited to realize their academic potential and achieve university entrance level grades. (Frenette, 2007).

Full-time Students Who Are Also Full-time Employees, Ages 20–29. 1991: 27800. 2001: 56100. 2011: 67038

Tuition may be the most obvious financial barrier to post-secondary education for low-income families, but it is hardly the only one. Student loans can help improve access to education, but continue to divide even graduates of the same program along class lines.

Those who take out student loans during school are less likely to own significant assets and in far worse financial shape than those who don’t. Though, both groups share relatively similar debt levels, those who took out student loans have much less to show for their debt. The debt taken on by non-borrowers is more likely to go to major assets, such as cars, home ownership or the establishment of small businesses. The average value of assets of post-secondary graduates who took out loans is $60,700 compared to $106,300 for non-borrowers and borrowers’ average net worth is $17,500 compared to $61,900 for non-borrowers (Luong 2010).

Making tuition more affordable would improve equality in access to post-secondary education and the opportunities that holds,however, to truly level the playing field will require changes throughout the education system, from elementary on up.

In order to realize our greatest collective potential we must encourage every student to achieve their individual best. Knowledge is something to be shared, not sold to the highest bidder.

Jacob Morrow

Recommended for further reading.

2012-2013 CAUT almanac of post-secondary education in Canada.                                                                           From the Canadian Association of University Teachers, this almanac features a great deal of information on the state of post-secondary education in Canada with tons of easy to follow charts. Check out the Chapter titled “Students” for more information on access to education.

Public education for the public good: a national vision for Canada’s post-secondary education system.    A very to the point collection of facts and figures from the Canadian Federation of Students


Resources referenced or used.

All sources referenced or used in the creation of this report or recommended for further reading are available for free, in their entirety online to anyone with Internet access.
Bowlby, Jeffrey W, and McMullen, Kathryn. Human resources and skills development Canada, Statistics Canada.“At a crossroads: first results for the 18-20-year-old cohort of the youth in transition survey.”  (Hull: January 2002).
Canadian association of university teachers “Students,” from, “2012-2013 CAUT almanac of post-secondary education in Canada.” (Ottawa: September 2012).
Canadian council on learning. “Post-secondary education in Canada: meeting our needs?” (Ottawa: February 2009).
Canadian federation of students. “Public education for the public good: a national vision for Canada’s post-secondary education system.” (Ottawa: October 2012).
Finnie, Ross, and Mueller, Richard E. Measuring the effectiveness of student aid project, Educational policy institute. “The effects of family income, parental education and other background factors on access to post‐secondary, education in Canada: evidence from the youth in transition survey.” (Toronto: 2008).
Frenette, Marc. Statistics Canada. “Why are youth from lower-income families less likely to attend university? Evidence from academic abilities, parental influences, and financial constraints.” (Ottawa: February 2007).
Human resources and skills development Canada. “Special Reports – What Difference Does Learning Make to Financial Security?” (June 2012).
Luong, May. Statistics Canada “The financial impact of student loans,” from, “Perspectives on labour and income.” (Ottawa: January 2010)
MacDonald, David, and Shaker, Erika. Canadian centre for policy alternatives. “Eduflation and the high cost of learning.” (September 2012).
Organization for economic co-operation and development. “Investing in equity education pays off,” from, “Equity and quality in education: supporting disadvantaged students and schools.” OECD Publishing (February 2012a).
Organization for economic co-operation and development.Education at a glance 2012: country notes – Canada.” OECD Publishing (September 2012b).

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