March 18, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 88  

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Universities more accessible than in 1960s?

By Sarvenaz Kermanshahi
and Kelly Gow

Gazette Staff

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 otherwise.

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 budgets.”

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 cent.

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 added.

—with files from Allison Buchan-Terrel



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