Volume 91, Issue 21

Thursday, October 2, 1997



Student access debated

By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
Gazette Staff

A Statistics Canada report published Monday has the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance concerned that only half the story was told.

The report, which comes from a series of surveys collected over the past 20 years, attempts to look at how accessibility to post-secondary education has been effected by the current financial climate.

The most striking finding of the StatsCan study lies in student enrollment, which has risen from 8.3 per cent in 1975 to 18.6 per cent in 1995, despite tuition increases of up to 86 per cent between 1983 and 1995.

The survey also found student employment earnings have dropped 21 per cent between 1989 and 1994 and the Canada Student Loan Plan has lagged behind tuition increases by 20 per cent between 1984 and 1995.

"Young people appear, despite rising tuition fees, to obviously still think school is a good investment with many post-graduate benefits to offset the costs," said Don Little, former analyst for the Centre for Education Statistics at Statistics Canada..

Barry McCartan, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, said he is concerned people will assume the results of the survey indicate accessibility to education has become easier regardless of the rising costs to students.

"On the face of it, you can't argue with raw data but we are trying to get people to look carefully at the report instead of making broad conclusions," McCartan said.

The data is based largely on full-time students – almost completely ignoring those in part-time studies which, McCartan said, paints an incomplete picture.

"Since 1992, part-time enrollment has been decreasing, largely because of tuition increases," he said, adding when employment increases, part-time enrollment decreases.

McCartan also said part-time enrollment of people under 25 years of age has increased which could indicate rising tuition fees are affecting full-time students who do not have financial backing.

Ryan Parks, president of Western's University Students' Council, said students may be paying a higher cost without a degree but are holding their breath in order to pay back loans. "Debt after graduation only delays the point at which people become part of a society financially."

Additional survey factors, McCartan said, which may help give a clearer picture, involve studying low, middle and high income families to learn how many family members actually attend a post-secondary institution.

Hoops Harrison, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said he thinks OUSA will help change public opinion by bringing these issues out.

"Just because enrollment hasn't gone down doesn't mean tuition should go up," Harrison said.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997