Universities more accessible than in 1960s?
By Sarvenaz Kermanshahi
and Kelly Gow
Although student lobby groups are constantly claiming that
Canada’s post-secondary education system is in the midst
of a financial crisis, two recently published reports suggest
A study conducted by the Toronto-based Education Policy Institute
shows that post-secondary education is in fact more accessible
today than it was 40 years ago.
“On the demographic side, there is higher participation
from people from lower social economic groups,” said
Alex Usher, author of the study and former director of research
at the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. “On the financial
side, the expenditures haven’t changed and neither have
The study found that the percentage of undergraduate students
from families in the lowest 25 per cent income bracket rose
from 11 per cent in 1965 to 17 per cent in 1998. Over this
same time period, the percentage of undergraduates from families
in the next highest income bracket dropped from 51 to 35 per
The study also showed that the cost of tuition and books,
when adjusted for inflation, was in fact lower than it was
in 1965, while the cost of food and accommodation increased.
Usher said more students are working during the school year
to cover the costs of their education. “These days, it
is normal [for students] to work while in school. Three-fourths
did not work during the school year [then], now two-thirds
look for work,” he said.
Similar findings were reported in a separate study conducted
at the University of Toronto. The findings were based on results
from a survey conducted in 2003, and indicated the number of
U of T undergraduates from families with incomes less than
$50,000 increased by 15 per cent over the previous year. The
study also reports a 13.8 per cent increase of students from
low-income families in dentistry, law, medicine and pharmacy.
“You can’t conclude anything about the post-secondary
education system in Canada from U of T,” said Dave Ford,
University Students’ Council VP-education and Ontario
regional director for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. “To
focus on U of T, which has the most robust financial system,
and say that smaller schools are in the same situation is ridiculous.”
Ford said students from the highest income bracket are two-and-a-half
times more likely to attend university. “The distribution
of income groups in the college system is far more consistent
than in university,” he said.
He cited statistics from the Survey of Student Finances put
out by the Western that contradicted the results of the reports. “The
average debt levels of those graduating with debt at Western
is $26,000,” Ford said, adding that 54 per cent of Western
students graduate with debt.
“It can’t be denied that there is a problem when
one-third of those who drop out after their first year of study
cite financial reasons as a contributing factor,” he
—with files from Allison Buchan-Terrel