March 18, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 88  

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Who’s right on accessibility?

A recent study by the Educational Policy Institute has brought to light discrepancies between statistics from universities and student lobby groups when it comes to the cost of post-secondary education.

According to the study, when inflation is taken into account the cost of attending university was more expensive in the 1960s than it is today. Furthermore, according to another study conducted at the University of Toronto, the current year’s student body has seen a 15 per cent increase in the number of undergraduate students from low-income families (under $50,000/year) from the previous year. There is also a 35 per cent increase in the number of doctoral students from the same financial background from last year.

Taken together, these studies suggest that more students from lower income famillies are finding means to pay for post-secondary education.

Why is there such a great discrepancy between what these studies and lobby groups are telling the public?

Student lobby groups such as the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance have been campaigning for years by stating that the cost of post-secondary education has skyrocketed over the years, making education more expensive now than it has ever been. Lobby groups claim that two-thirds of all students who drop out in first year do so because of financial reasons.

Western has a policy that states that no student will be denied access based on financial need. Clearly, this statement is convenient media fodder, but how many universities actually put their money where their mouth is? There have been cases documented in which students have been told that if they cannot afford university, they should not be attending.

Truth is desperately needed in this situation, but it’s nearly impossible to find it in all the rhetoric. Universities and lobby groups present numbers which buttress their arguments, and avoid those statistics which may present them in a shady light. Both sides that are involved want to promote their own agenda: student lobby groups love fighting “the man,” while universities are corporations that love feeding it.

What the issue requires is an independent organization without a vested interest in either side to determine the actual state of affairs with regards to the cost of post-secondary education and its effects (Note: this is not the government).

Regardless of which numbers are accurate, both sides should be looking at providing students with affordable post-secondary education. Hiding behind numbers or statistics is not an acceptable solution, and the goal of providing affordable and high quality education needs to be pursued “at all costs.”



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