Rising tuition? It’s a myth

New study says the real cost of university is falling. One province is even paying its students


On Nov. 5, the streets of downtown Ottawa were flooded with angry students frantically waving red-and-black “Drop Fees” signs. Nationwide, thousands rallied, demanding protection from what everyone knows are skyrocketing tuition fees. This is probably the image that springs to mind when you think about the price of a university education in Canada: students protesting, and tuition fees that just keep going higher and higher.

But according to a new report by Canada’s only higher education think tank, the cost of a university education for the average Canadian is actually going down: when inflation and a growing list of federal and provincial tax breaks are taken into account, a degree is now slightly cheaper than at the turn of the century. The real cost of an education has fallen in most provinces. In Manitoba, real tuition costs are down more than 100 per cent in the last eight years—which means that the average student in that province is effectively being paid $51 a month to go to school.

These surprising findings come from a recent report from the Educational Policy Institute (EPI). Alex Usher, director of the Canadian arm of the international think tank and the study’s co-author, says the commonly held view that university is becoming unaffordable is just plain wrong. “By any reasonable measure, education is a lot more affordable now here than it was 10 years ago,” says Usher.

More: Overview of federal/provincial tax credits and rebates

Tuition and related fees have been steadily rising in most provinces. But according to, “Beyond the Sticker Shock 2008–A Closer Look at Canadian Tuition Fees,” the tuition sticker price is not the real measure of the cost of university. Governments are offering a growing list of tax credits and rebates, targeted at students, which greatly reduce the real cost of university. It’s as if you walked into a car dealership and saw that the sticker price of a car was $20,000—but were also told all buyers would receive a $5,000 rebate. The real cost of the car would be $15,000, not $20,000.

That’s what’s been going with Canadian university costs: sticker prices are going up, but student tax credits and rebates are increasing, too. “Since 1999-2000, these credits have completely offset out the effects of any increases in tuitions,” says the report. “[Tuition] is no higher now than it was eight years ago.”

In order to accurately measure real tuition costs, Usher and EPI created a measure that takes into account inflation, as well as the growing amount of tax relief offered to students, calling the resulting number “Everybody’s Net Tuition”. Over the past few years, governments have introduced a number of large tax breaks targeted at higher education students. For example, for every month that they are enrolled, full-time students can claim a $400 tax credit from the federal government; part-time students can claim $120 per month. The textbook and technology tax credit, introduced in 2006, gives $65 off a month to full-time students and $20 a month to part-timers. Usher says taking such tax benefits into consideration and subtracting them from average tuition gives a more accurate picture of what university actually costs.

Value of Available Tax Credits per Full-Time University Student (click on charts to enlarge)


According to EPI’s report, the average Canadian full-time student’s university tuition and fees have risen by 58 percent since 1998, from $3,601 to $4,524. But when inflation and tax credits are taken into account, net tuition — the cost of tuition minus federal and provincial tax credits —is up only 8 per cent since 1999-2000.

In fact, since the turn of the century net tuition has declined in six provinces: Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. Usher says that, however little the public may be aware of these tax credits, most students take advantage of them. According to him, about half of Canada’s students claim the credits immediately; one out of four students carry the credits forward to a later tax years; and around a third give the credits to their parents, who can use them to reduce their own income tax. “Practically all these credits are being used,” he says.

Absolute and Percentage Changes in Everybody’s Net Tuition


What’s more, four provinces have created tax rebate programs that further reduce the cost of higher education for students who remain in the province after graduation. For example, the Manitoba Tuition Fee Tax Rebate gives post-secondary students 60 per cent of their tuition fees back in income taxes over 6 to 20 years, while New Brunswick’s Tuition Tax Cash Back Credit gives students up to 50 per cent of their tuition back to a maximum of $2,000 per year and $10,000 total. Students have 20 years to use the New Brunswick credit, so they could conceivably leave the province for a decade, move back and still receive the full benefit. Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have similar programs.

Everybody’s Net Tuition, Considering Tax Rebate Programs


When the effects of all of these tax rebates and credits are taken into account, EPI says average net tuition across Canada has decreased by 0.1% since 1999-2000. Students in seven provinces are paying less net tuition than they did at the beginning of the decade. The most extreme case is Manitoba: thanks to substantial new tax breaks, a full-time student in Manitoba who graduates and remains in the province is effectively being paid $51 per month to go to school.

Changes in Everybody’s Net Tuition, Considering Tax Rebate Programs


Three provinces have, however, seen an increase in the real cost of university. Since a tuition freeze was lifted in 2000, net tuition has risen 66 per cent in British Columbia. Quebec net tuition is up 8 per cent; in Ontario it has risen by 2 per cent.

Not everyone is in agreement with Usher’s findings. Donald Fisher, co-director of the Centre for Policy Studies in Higher Education and Training at the University of British Columbia, argues that EPI’s calculations mask the toll that tuition increases are taking on the poorest students. He says the best way to measure university affordability is to look at tuition fees as a proportion of after-tax income. In a yet-to-be published book, Fisher and a colleague find that increases in the annual cost of a university education hit poor families the hardest.

“We calculated that through the 1990s, for the lowest income quintile (20 per cent) the proportion of tuition cost to income rose from 14 per cent to 23 percent,” he says. In comparison, tuition fees take up less than five percent of after-tax income for the richest families. Although these figures are from British Columbia specifically, Fisher says the numbers are a good representation of the nationwide situation. He says university is becoming less affordable for the least wealthy.

Average Undergraduate Tuition Fees as a Proportion of After-Tax Income


Usher says this approach is flawed, because looking only at the tuition sticker price, without considering money students get back through tax credits and rebates, misses half the equation. Usher also points to new grants from the federal government, means-tested and targeted at low-income students, that he says are further helping to level the playing field.

Fisher also believes that Manitoba’s negative tuition is “theoretical” for many students. The big post-graduation tuition rebate is only available to graduates who live, work and pay taxes in the province. A Manitoba university student who moves to Ontario or Saskatchewan can’t claim the rebate.

Michael Bloom, education specialist at the Conference Board of Canada, says that even if higher tuition is being if offset by tax credits, governments need to be mindful of the fact that some students—particularly the poorest students—may be dissuaded from going to school by the high sticker price. They’ll be victims of the “sticker shock” in the title of the EPI report. “The bottom quintile is more inclined to see a post-secondary education as being an expense, not an investment,” says Bloom. “Where you do get a significant increase in the average cost of tuition, you need an active program to communicate to the groups at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum so they don’t walk away from the system entirely,” he says.

Fisher similarly says that the federal government needs to get the message out there, so that students are aware of all the programs available to make university more affordable. “They can use these tax credit experiments in the four provinces as a model, advertise it broadly, and make it really attractive, so when someone is thinking about going to university they know about these rebates,” he says. “That would be a really major step forward.”

According to “Measuring Up 2008,” a recent report from the U.S. National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, published university fees in the United States increased 439 per cent from 1982 to 2007, while median family income rose only 147 per cent. It also found student borrowing in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past decade, and students from lower income families get smaller grants than students from richer families.

Usher says the U.S. numbers are troubling, but that the situation in Canada is different. He says Canada’s federal government has over the past few years taken steps aimed at at ensuring that people from lower economic backgrounds are protected, mostly through increases in needs-based grants.

Before 2005, the Millennium Scholarship Foundation only gave grants based on a “need” formula that included number of children, age, price of the student’s program and family income. Usher says that meant that only about 40 per cent of the loans were going to low-income students. In 2005, to direct more money to low income students, the foundation established Millennium Access Bursaries, which are based solely on family income. The same year, the federal government established Canada Access Grants for Students from Low-Income Families, which provide first-time, first-year students up to $3,000, to cover one-half of their tuition.

“Grants, by and large, have not historically had an income-based component to them,” says Usher. “It’s only been in the last three or four years that we’ve seen the emergence of grants that are actually income-based.” Generally, he says those grants have gone to older students with children who are able to shoulder more debt.

The EPI report did not take these grants into account when measuring the real net cost of university tuition; the authors write that accurate national data simply doesn’t exist, and as a result, “the average size of grants received by grant recipients is actually unknown.” Their calculations also do not take into account student loan programs, which are designed to cover the immediate financial burden of attending college or university. According to the most recent numbers available, the Canada Student Loan Program loaned 350,000 students an average of $5,631 in 2006. Approximately 40 per cent of all full-time post-secondary students receive government loans.


Rising tuition? It’s a myth

  1. Hmmm. I guess childcare is also more “affordable” lately too….

  2. Great article Karen. The issue of tuition is not as simple as it is often presented, and Usher’s “Beyond the Sticker Price” piece offers a more holistic view. I hope that more people read it. Usher’s net tuition calculations are extremely informative and could be very useful to parents planning to assist their children with the costs of their post-secondary education.

    While it makes sense from the accounting perspective, treating tax credits and tuition rebates as tuition discounts does not take the issue of student cash flow into account. Students may not be able to pull together the funds to pay their full tuition and fee amounts when they become due. What’s more, some students do not have the credit capacity to defer these costs until their tax refund becomes available in April. Students who cannot access enough funds for tuition, the basic cost of living, and in some cases childcare (as PM notes) may need to slow or interrupt their studies. These students are near the threshold of affording post-secondary education, and if they do not have sufficient funds available through cash, credit, or loans and grants, a higher sticker price can effectively price them out of the market. (Just like with me and that pink Coach handbag I was admiring over the lunch hour).

    Fisher also raises some good points with regard to the conditions that students must meet to qualify for rebates where they exist. I would add that if cash flow issues threaten program completion, then a student may never receive any tuition rebate, as only graduates qualify.

  3. Tuition fees and net-costs are obviously not the same things, so perhaps this post should be titled “Rising net-tuition? It’s a myth”. That would be more accurate.

    Of course, the post points out that, in some provinces, rising net-tuition is indeed a fact. So maybe a more accurate title for the post is “Rising net-tuition? It’s a myth (except in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario).”

    One other point: it is misinforming to make sweeping statements about net-cost being reduced by post-graduation tax rebates, such as in Manitoba, when we know that a great number of students do not graduate.

  4. Please add Nova Scotia to that list, though in the very short term tuition is down slightly. Having moved on to a professional program, however, I’m now paying ~$13,500 per year. Fortunately the NS government has recognized these higher costs by permitting higher student loan payments.

  5. The focus of the media on “tuition costs” every year continues to foster the myth that a post secondary education is expensive. It would be helpful instead to appeal to the perspective of our future graduates. Rarely is it stated that the cost of a post secondary education in Canada is heavily subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer. As an example, the cost of an international student attending the same program as a resident student at UBC in first year science is nearly five times the cost, $4,777 vs $21,265 (https://you.ubc.ca/ubc/vancouver/adding.ezc). As a society, we value education and tax dollars (including student loans and grants) help subsidize the cost.

    Secondly, students need to consider the amortized cost of their education. If we amortize the annual cost of a post secondary education over its life span, say 30 years, the annual cost is less than some people spend at Starbucks annually, and certainly much lower than the annual cost of automobile ownership. When you consider the value of an education, the cost is almost negligible.

    Don’t get me wrong. I understand that for many people finding a way to fund an education can be difficult. My experience (and it is limited to 25 years of teaching, the last five as a career counselor), suggests that there are a variety of contributing factors. Poor planning by students and parents in terms of saving towards educational expenses. Parents and students need to sit down early in high school and have a frank discussion about post secondary funding. Too many of the students I deal with seem to think that their parents will pay, and so do little to save towards their own education or work towards earning scholarships or bursaries. Parents for their part need to teach their children the essentials of financial management and involve them in the process of educational saving and financing. The reality is that more students may need to consider a “Gap” year in order to ensure the successful financial planning of their education. I could go on and on, but at the end of the day nything worth having is worth working for.


  6. Given the net benefit to society, it is shameful that we are even having this debate about the costs of post-secondary education. To those struggling to fund their postr-secondary eduaction this has as much relevance as how many angels could dance on the head of a pin!

    Simply put, in a rich country like Canada, third level education should be free. If you have the intellectual capacity to be accepted by a college/university, then your education should be fully funded.

  7. Tax credits do little good to students who must attend part-time and work at the same time. Only fulltime students qualify for most programs.

  8. In response to the first responder.– What is it that those students that have children have to do with the cost of education? The children are their responsibility not mine as a taxpayer.

  9. Bill Turner, for someone who has apparently spent the last five years as a career counselor – you are essentially failing the students who are suppose to “counsel” by even suggesting that it’s alright that tuition fees continue to rise. The number one reason cited for not attending post-secondary education is its rising cost. If one were to simply examine it in terms of inflation-adjustment (such as the author of this artcle suggested without fully asessing) – you would realize tuition now is the level it should be at in 2042-2034. There is no excuse for this.

    The stat you used applies to tuition at UBC – but does not include the addition fees added on top of this by university administration. What many people tend miss is that although tuition may be ONLY 5,800$ (uOttawa as of Sept 2009) – the cost of books, rent, transportation, etc is essentially double this figure! (http://www.admission.uottawa.ca/Default.aspx?tabid=2554)

    I also think it’s quite funny in order excuse rising tuition cost you use a so-called “amortization” of post-secondary education. To begin with, I think it is great that you mentioned Starbucks. For many who are in post-secondary education or have had access to it – they realize how destructive of a corporation Starbucks is and boycott it upon that basis.

    In addition, coffee is a staple for many people, demonstrated by the fact it is the second highest traded good upon our planet (and that 15 billion cups are consumed by Canadians per annum). People in every career are reliant upon coffee to concentrate, and being a student constitutes a career.

    Comparing coffee consumption within a person’s life on par with the benefit of post-secondary education – you are missing the point entirely. 70% of jobs today require some level of post-secondary education (as any career counselor should know) – by increasing tuition fees you are simply restricting employment options from those within the low income bracket.

  10. Mr. Turner:

    How is a high-school student to save for university? When wages are some 7$-10$ (max) for anyone of high school age, or even for many of us unergraduate students, simply paying rent and staving off vitamin deficiencies is tough enough. But saving for uni?

    Let’s say a student works 40 hours a week, for 10 weeks each summer, after grades 10, 11, and 12. This means we’re assuming they start the full-time grind at age 16. At 7$ hourly, before taxes and ANY other expenses, this kid has 2800$ per summer. At best, with NO other use for the money and no taxes, that’s $8400. When I started uni a couple years ago (in QC – McGill), under $5000 yearly went to school fees; that’s now some 5700$ I believe, and rising. So…. how is this kid supposed to be paying for uni?? (Keep in mind, tuition is NOT the same as what school fees work out to be, never mind books and living costs).

    Scholarships require a lot of work to obtain and renew, grants are nonexistent. People do still need to pay for food, often rent (or, worse, residence fees), perhaps some sort of communication device (phone, internet, computer, cell, or a mix of the above). If one lives at home, it may be “only” school-related costs that are of concern. If school is a commute, by car or bus or train, then those costs quickly bump up the costs. If school is farther afield, train and especially plane tickets inflate the price tag very significantly.

    Somehow, it is difficult for me to peg the blame on poor planning, though I’m sure there’s plenty of that going around too. I know a kid whose parents insisted he go to uni and reassured him they had it under control, sent him to a private, expensive one, then turned around and bought a brand new car and angrily demanded why he thought they could afford to send him back for a second year at uni. We can’t choose our families, our home town job markets or wages (generally dismal for anyone with less than a Master’s desgree or trades certification), or in some cases our scholarship-winning qualities (if only I’d been born to a more marginalized group…).

    In the end though, why should students today care that the ‘real’ costs of higher education are marginally cheaper now than in 1997 (IF they are amortized and IF we look at net costs, ASSUMING students have the funds to wait for rather vague tax credits for which they may or may not qualify)?? The point at issue here is that rather than becoming increasingly accessible, higher education (despite efforts to corporatize it, allegdly to alleviate the pressre on students – see the diabolical works of McGill’s principal) is not nearly as accessible as it should be. And rather than recognizing that, people are making efforts to turn what we students live and know to be true, on its head. Rather than taking this seriously and addressing a serious and yes, growing problem (thank you, Lain, for pointing out the inequity it exacerbates!!), the business and political interests have their fingers in their ears and are blithely singing out the opposite.

  11. I honestly must say that for the most part I agree with Mr. Turner. From what I’ve gathered from the replies (which I had to skim because they are quite long, so you’ll have to forgive me If I’ve misinterpreted something you’ve said), many of you are under the impression that tuition is expensive, the costs associated with going to school are expensive, and that the government is not doing enough to assist students.

    But I don’t think people realize how truly expensive an education is. In the USA and other countries, a degree similar to ours would easily cost $30 000/year in comparison to the $5000/year. And as the article has stated, the USA has less grants available to lower-income students than wealthy ones. In fact, one program I looked into sometime ago was going to cost $14 000/year. I ended up not taking that program. When I talked to a student in the program two years later, I found out that the government had decided to subsidize that program and it now cost $3500/year. I actually feel we are very lucky in comparison to other countries.

    And while paying for everyone’s education is all nice in theory, I feel in reality, it is a terrible idea. Students will then place no value on education, and it will be wasted on them. As it is I know many people in university who get 2 or 3 degrees and are still going. Or, better yet, they get a job in a completely unrelated field. Even better are the people who don’t complete their degree, not because they can’t afford it, but because they changed their mind. And these people get subsidized $15 000 each year! And let’s not forget the bad spending habits of the standard student (ie- buying a cup of coffee from Starbucks instead of McDonald’s, where coffee is free from 6am to 10am in some provinces). At least if the schooling costs them something, students might think twice before investing in a degree they won’t use.

    Finally, while admittedly the statement that poor planning is the reason that students can’t afford schooling is not applicable to all cases, it’s generally true. There are lots of scholarships and opportunities to fund your education whether you are intelligent or not. I initially couldn’t find them myself when coming out of high school, I eventually found them in my second year and ended up making money as a result. Yes, it requires a lot of work, but that’s life. If you can’t do the homework to fund your schooling, what makes you think you’ll be able to hack the homework they’ll give you in school?

  12. Wow, people whine a lot.

    I got my degree in Engineering from Queen’s, received little help from my parents after first year (my choice), and worked a 30 hour/wk job to support myself and pay the bills. It was tough, it took time management skills, but it was worth it. If I hadn’t paid it all off during school and needed a loan, it would have been worth it, because I would use my degree to make money alter in life.

    No degree, no money.

    If you find that all you can do is work at Starbucks after getting your degree, that’s your own fault. You either got a worthless degree or didn’t do very well at it. Either way, just having a piece of paper doesn’t entitle you to anything. Grow up, stop whining and contribute to society.

    And to Bill Turner – right on.

  13. It’s interesting that Alex Usher claims at some point in the study that even if the student carries the tax credit forward (because their income is probably too low to pay any tax), it’s still a tuition rebate “dollar for dollar”. Yet in the previous debate last year (on student loans), he claimed that their is value associated to having a dollar “right now” rather than “later”.

    Said otherwise, if the student carries forward the tax credit until their income is high enough to take advantage of it, they won’t accumulate interest on their credit, while they will accumulate interest on the loan they used to pay tuition in the first place.

    Also, if a tax rebate was equivalent “dollar for dollar” to a tuition rebate, as the study claim, why doesn’t the government just put that money directly in the universities to reduce tuition? At least, in this way, all the money would go directly to education with less administrative costs and bureaucracy. But of course, it’s not equivalent, and that’s one point where this study is flawed.

    On a last note, wasn’t it Alex Usher himself who claimed that tuition fee reductions are a “subsidy for the rich”? That last point is debatable in itself, but my concern here is that these types of tax credits are at least equally, and likely more, a “subsidy to the rich” that low tuition fees.

  14. Ms. Leung:

    “Even better are the people who don’t complete their degree, not because they can’t afford it, but because they changed their mind. And these people get subsidized $15 000 each year!”

    The idea that educating an undergraduate student costs about $15,000 a year is based on faulty calculations. Often this is simply dividing the operating budget of the university by the number of students. However this operating budget includes the whole of professor salaries (and full-time professors in large research university spend more time on research and supervising graduate students than teaching undegraduates) and the whole of building maintenances (and again a large part of those buildings are used for research and not teaching). Clearly it would be misrepresentative to include the costs of university research in “undergraduate education”.

    Of course, since even private universities don’t receive enough public or private subsidies to cover all their research costs, they high tuition fees often pay part of this research (and part of the high tuition fees also pay for the education of students who get scholarships… but again, students subsidizing other students is not a “cost of education” per se).

    A physics professor here at University of California, Berkeley estimated that the share of undergraduate education in the university budget is about $7,000 (US) per student per year.

    As a side point, $7,000 is also approximate amount that California residents pay to attend Berkeley, which means that for this public university in the US, students pay exactly how much their education “costs”. (Residents from other states and international students pay nearly $25,000 US, though, meaning that they subsidize research or scholarships, as mentioned earlier.) But I thought it was interesting to point out that these “in-state” tuition fees of US public universities (even the most renowned ones) are not as high as what you hear from the private sector in the US.

  15. Striving for excellence means comparing with oneself, and not to others. There will allways be better and worse situations,and funny thing, everybody is citing USA, and nobody is ever mentioning France or Sweden.
    Post secondary education at any level should be free, fully subsidized, end of discussion.

  16. Carmen

    Education should be free? In an ideal world everything would be free, especially education.

    But last time I checked buildings and books and lab equipment and light bulbs cost money. And professors probably wouldn’t show up for work if they weren’t getting paid.

    Education COSTS money. Someone has to pay it. The government (taxpayers) already pay the vast majority of it, not the students. And this study shows students get most of what they do pay returned to them in tax breaks.

    I support students paying part of their way through university (rather than all of it or none of it). It makes us value our education more because we’ve earned it.

    Education isn’t free. Sometimes you just have to work for things in life.

  17. Josh

    Read Carmen’s post again.

    If in an ideal world Education would be free, then I guess France and Sweden are the ideal world.

    Lets stop comparing ourselves with the Americans, it’s apparent an education for profit system is not what is in the best interest of the public, despite what our government (or media) would have us believe.

    Here’s the problem with rising tuition costs. I have a 30 thousand dollar debt, no assets, and a piece of paper which, in our raw materials based economy, is providing for very little in the way of a financial boost. Thirty years from now, when I’ve finally paid off this debt, going to University might have been worth it…if our oil boom fails. If it doesn’t, in a cost/benefit scenario a trade would have been more worth my time.

    It seems the government would rather have rig workers than academics. Perhaps we’re still all meant to be fur traders and lumberjacks, harvesting raw materials for use in other nations….

  18. Nonsense – tax credits are of little use to most students who have negligible real incomes. Unless these are refundable tax credits, giving a couple hundred dollars off the price of texts is not altogether helpful.

  19. josh
    don’t get me wrong, and don’t twist it. education should be free for students, all costs covered by government. admission should be based on excellence, and not on who’s parents have saved enough money. and yes, some things in life need to be worked for, i agree with you. getting through an admission exam for university takes a minimum of 12 years of hard work, so i guess whoever gets admitted have earned “their keep”.
    otherwise, higher education becomes either a prerogative of the elite
    , or a very long string of debt paying years.

  20. brian,
    i feel for you, my dear, i have 2 kids in the same situation. we are not talking about an ideal world,just societies with different priorities. everything can be changed, but attitudes take the longest time, unfortunately.
    and don’t worry, even through your 30 “paying back” long years your effort it’s paid off. you have a mind of your own and you are not that easy to manipulate. that’s good ;-)

  21. Hi, I didn’t read everything above here, but to free education… I came from middle-eastern Europe. 20 years after communism felt down, there is still free university education in ( how I know all) post-communistic countries. Students even pay few for rent in student houses and all books get borrowed from university at least for one year, automatically. I don’t now how they make it, but, at least science undergrad, that I could experience there, has at least as good standard as in any university here. Students are taught simply the same. In small groups ( up to 20 people) in tutorials; semester is always perfectly complete, in lectures, tutorials and labs. Every single missed hour is made in alternate time.
    When I came here, I understood that education is business like any another, I pay for exactly counted hours of lectures, tutorials, labs etc. On the other hand, I pay for tutorial that has over 600 students sitting in lecture hall, and professor solves problem asked by student who called first or most aloud. I believe this is for nothing to most of the rest of present students. And lectures, tutorials, whole semester weeks… are canceled and nobody gets back from that exactly calculated tuition. Here I don’t understand business principles and manners… it looks, that law is just on that side, that has more money and better lawyers.
    Anyway, it is just feel of foreigner, completely resigned to new situation :)

  22. I went to CEGEP before university (which is FREE for Quebec residents) and I must say it was great. Second year of CEGEP is the equivalent of the first year of an undergrad degree. The quality of the education I got was amazing, and the teachers had exceptional qualifications (most had PhD s). This just goes to show that free higher-education in Canada is possible.

    Also, to say that the cost of education is wasted on anybody, even students that do not finish their degree or change majors, is ridiculous. In CEGEP there is a system put in place whereby if a student fails a certain percentage of their classes for two consecutive semester they are not allowed to return. Also, some programs are harder to get into, filtering out students. This assures the taxpayer that they are helping to fund education for worthy (for lack of a better word) students.

    I am absolutely enraged that I am now paying tuition fees because I feel that education should be free and accessible to anybody that is willing to work for it; just like in CEGEP. If better systems are put in place, somewhat like the CEGEP model, I am positive free higher education can work.

    Also, I would like to mention that my parents refuse to support me financially for university. Because of this I have no co-signer for a bank loan (because they refuse to sign) and was not able to take out a government loan because in Quebec they take into account how much parents earn. Because they earn a lot, I am not entitled to anything, even thought they do not want to help me. Right now I work full time and attend school full time. The money I make covers rent, food and transport. I am very careful of every purchase and make my coffee at home. Starbucks is a unobtainable luxury for me at this point. Luckily, during my CEGEP, I was able to save up a little bit of money for university…but eventually it will run out it.
    For the next few years my only options will be to have an excellent credit score and turn 24 by skipping a few birthdays (so the government can give me my own loan without taking into account my parents salary) or pay tuition with my high interest rate MasterCard. Or I could quit school in the middle of my degree and waste the taxpayers dollars….Right Ms. Leung?

  23. “The government (taxpayers) already pay the vast majority of it, not the students.”

    That’s completely false in North America (outside maybe Quebec). I explained why in a post above, it’s because only part (typically, less than half in a large university) of the operating budget goes toward undergraduate education, while a large part goes to graduate education / research. So if undergraduate students (as a group) pay about 35-40% of the operating budget (a typical level in Canada outside Quebec), and if 50% of the budget goes towards undergrad education, then they pay 70-80% of their “cost of education”.

  24. For example, the largest operating expense in any university is the salaries of full-time professors, and these professors spend only about 30-40% of their time on undergraduate education. Similarly you would have to divide the cost of facilities (taxes, maintenance, heating, etc.) between research and teaching facilities, etc.

  25. Before launching into any discussion I think is imperative to first set out the parameters of the debate. The main hypothesis of this article is that rising tuition is a myth. Ok. Then it alleges that “real cost of university is falling”. Let make it clear that we need to compare apples with apples, and not with oranges. Tuition is not “real cost of university”. Tuition represents in most cases (and I’m being generous) only about 50% of the “real cost of university” as per the bill a student has to pay to the university. As an example let’s take the “cost” of doing an undergraduate degree at a university in Quebec (and let also be clear that Quebec has the lowest costs of post-secondary education in Canada): if you visit any financial aid website you will find the following breakdown of the “cost”: tuition – $1868 + “other ‘per credit’ fees” – $1071 + “other ‘per term’ fees – $50 + new student fee – $60 + ‘miscellaneous’ (depending on the university it might include student health plan (from which most cannot get away with unless already included in a parent or employer ) technology or copyright fees, ect.) – $200. The grand total of the “cost” and not only tuition brings us to about $3250, which is already double the initial “tuition”.

    Second the whole debate should be framed around the idea that the goal is to increase access to education as per EPI’s mission statement: “To expand educational opportunity for low-income and other historically-underrepresented students”. If Alex Usher uses tax credits to argue that they ultimately reduce the cost of education he should make sure that these measures are largely targeted to low-income households, which is not actually the case. A Canadian Federation of Students report shows that in 2007 the gap between tuition fees and education related tax credits is around $3937 (I don’t see how he can argue that in some provinces the gov. actually pays students to go to school). Tax credits do nothing to address the upfront financial barriers that low-income households face (tuition fees, living expenses, books, etc.). The decision to enrol in higher education is based on these upfront costs and not on a vague idea of future credits that in reality do not give any financial incentive except for a lower tax debt. If we are to also include the debt burden that most post-secondary students face once out of school in the eventuality they had to rely on loans, debut which in Canada averages $25,000, we can fairly conclude that they will spend at best the next 10 years repaying it (as one commenter pointed out). And let’s not forget that the cost of ‘living’ has not been decreasing at all which also adds another dimension to this discussion that might require a whole new research endeavor in itself.

    To increase access to education, especially for low-income families, instead of pouring money into tax measures the government should concentrate its resources in upfront “needs-based” GRANTS.

  26. Actually in Quebec the “other fees” are included in the tuition. In total I pay around 1600$ per semester. If you are not a Quebec resident, I think the tuition is more then double.
    To put a price on education is ridiculous to begin with, if grade school is free why shouldn’t university be? I never heard a taxpayer complain about paying for a 5-year-old’s education, if you are 18 and are you suddenly not worthy of learning?
    Plus, I wonder how many students know how to correctly file taxes and get those tax breaks?

  27. does anybody knows how to make this debate known to Karen Pinchin, author of the article and Alex Usher, “director of the Canadian arm of the international think tank”?
    just to make them aware that’s another “think-tank” with a different opinion?

  28. jessica…totally agree with you. although even in la belle province there are “other fees” that get added to the tuition. the numbers are used from Concordia u in MTL (see link here http://tuitionandfees.concordia.ca/u_costs/arts_sci.shtml)…although i see at Guelph u, they have less of “other fees” and higher tuition (http://tuitionandfees.concordia.ca/u_costs/arts_sci.shtml)…i guess each u has its own way of breaking down the total cost.

  29. What I find interesting is that the author claims tax breaks offset the cost of education, but what about loan interest offsetting the cost of those tax breaks!

    Say I have an average 25K student debt. At a fairly low prime rate of 4.75 (thats only if you live in an Atlantic province, else you’ll pay more) I’ll pay $337 a month to repay my loan. Take that over the standard 114 month period National Student Loans sets you up with and in the end you’ll be paying 38,434.95, or to make it even more clear, you’re paying out 13,434.95 in INTEREST!

    Calculate it yourself here: http://tools.canlearn.ca/cslgs-scpse/cln-cln/40/lrc-crp/lrc-crp.nlindex.do?langcanlearn=en

    Suddenly saving a couple hundred bucks through my educational tax breaks doesn’t seem like such a big deal when I’m going to be paying all that and more back to the government…who is making 13 grand off the loan they so generously let me have.

  30. Pingback: Rising tuition fees are a myth? Maclean’s needs to check its facts. : The Ryerson Free Press

  31. Heres the point Maclean’s seems to miss.

    Don’t look at how much its rising. Look at what its rising FROM. We all dont care if tuition went from 1$-2$, big deal. Even if the “real costs of tuition” are falling, look at where its falling FROM.

    $6000 a year + books. If you can tell me that this is inexpensive, you need to come over here and step into my shoes. I pay for it all myself, i don’t have mommy and daddy like you did. So instead of proving everyone wrong why don’t you use your damn reports and tell the gov’t to ease up on the students.

  32. Problem is, the government doesn’t have a mommy and daddy either. If they could afford to pay for everyone’s education why wouldn’t they?

    Actually they already pay the majority of what university costs. If university was entirely private, you’d be paying closer to $15,000.

    Luckily there are few people prevented from going to school because they’re poor. Anyone can get OSAP or bursaries if they’re truly in need of it. We have extraordinary access to education – even if some of us have to worker harder than others.


  33. “Actually they already pay the majority of what university costs. If university was entirely private, you’d be paying closer to $15,000.”

    Again this argument is faulty in the context of tuition. “University costs” include research as well as teaching, and it would be improper to put the whole Canadian research bill on the back of undergraduate students. (Of course, in private universities, undergraduate students are paying more than the cost of their own education and are also subsidizing research. Even in Canadian public universities, law students and international students typically subsidize the rest of the university in addition to their own “education costs”).

    The cost of actual undergraduate teaching at most universities is around $7000/undergraduate student. This is the result that a Berkeley physics prof. got for that university (http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz/UndergradCost.html) and I got around $7000 too by repeating the calculation with the University of Ottawa budget numbers.

  34. “Problem is, the government doesn’t have a mommy and daddy either. If they could afford to pay for everyone’s education why wouldn’t they?”

    I can think of multiple reasons for that (for example, see the belief by some people above that students wouldn’t “value” education if it wasn’t expensive…)

    Regardless, it’s not the question of what the government can “afford” more than where it chooses to put its money and for which reasons. The first question we could ask (regarding this particular study) is whether the government could take all this money it “gives” in tax cuts (a lot of which goes directly to upper-class and middle-upper-class parents) and use it in some other way that would better approach the ideal of universal access to education.

  35. I am a student at the University of Alberta, paying for my tuition entirely on my own. I don’t have Mommy and Daddy paying my tuition. Yet somehow I’ve made it debt free, and I’m almost done my degree. I had saved up $1600 before entering university, and got one scholarship at $2500 the first year (which any highschool student achieving honours marks through grades 10, 11 and 12 receives in Alberta), and one scholarship for $1000 this year, also automatically given out to Alberta residents with a minimum (but not too high) GPA. That’s all the aid I’ve received, although I know I could get more by applying for the plethora of scholarships and bursaries available to students (I just don’t like writing essays). I also make enough money to pay rent and food and then some. How do I do it?

    Well, I don’t buy a coffee every morning, I don’t have designer jeans, and I work my behind off in the summer. I haven’t had a part time job most of my career – I had one last semester simply because I had the time for one, and it did not cause me undue stress.

    No, I don’t have any dependents, and yes, I was able to stay at home my first year – that freed up enough money for me to travel a little, and I still had enough money for rent.

    Students who are in university saw the cost, and decided it was worth it anyway. But now we’re complaining, and want it all subsidized? I say no. I, too, have seen too many people who do not value education because they’ve had it paid for by daddy-dearest or whomever else.

    Stop begging people to pay for it for you. There are tons of scholarships and bursaries aimed at students coming from low-income families. If someone is really qualified to go to university, and they’re really motivated to, I’m sure they can find a university with scholarships, and find a few extra scholarships from organizations aimed at helping those fiscally unable to attend university on their own.

    The rest of us should learn to give up the fancy lattes and designer jeans, and suck it up. This is an investment in your future, and if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort required to fund your own education (even by filling out scholarship and bursary applications, and working instead of going to Europe over the summer), I don’t want to be paying for it, either.

  36. Hey frugal student! Kudos to not posting your name to begin with, any REAL student might have actually done that…

    To begin with, the University of Alberta quotes $14,037.42 as the total fees one would expect in a year of attending school while not at home. This figure has also been somewhat conservatively estimated because it only takes into consideration if your books cost 120$ per course (which tend to be around 150$ for social sciences ALONE, not to mention the poor folks in sciences or engineering).[http://www.registrar.ualberta.ca/ro.cfm?id=421]

    So even with the $5000+ you have managed to save up, and including the savings you had from staying home – you fail to account for many things. Perhaps you should consult stats before making them up?

    What currently seems to be the trend is that if you take up a part time job during school periods, you miss out on the amazing opportunities to get involved. That seems to be the way the system stiffles student dissent – many students do not get involved for the fear of losing their scholarship. Not to mention many schools also mislead you about the average you have to maintain to keep said scholarship (although hell! that would make them money ;) )

    As someone who not only works during the SUMMER, but also works every WINTER in hard jobs – I think it’s hypocritical of you to accuse others of slacking. I still manage to fall short quite a sum without government loans, which I will have to pay for WITH interest!

    PS. I never started or gotten into the habit of designer jeans, and drink coffee only to keep me awake during the 7 day weeks I stay involved on campus…perhaps reconsider your arguments?

  37. I work full time on top of going to school and BARELY manage to make rent…I am sorry “frugal student” I do not believe you. I agree with Iain, I would love to join clubs and make more friends in university but that seems to be impossible for me. Classes are 50% of the experience, I want the other 50% too…

  38. to: frugal student

    IF and only IF you are a student, i am sincerely amazed you almost made your degree. your syntax and grammar are terrible and you have no real argument. i very much doubt that the university of alberta has lowered the standards that much.

    i am very happy to see that from all real students there is a consensus for free education. it’s a great cause and it deserves the time and effort of all of us.

  39. Amazing that no one has pointed out the error on page 2:

    “According to EPI’s report, the average Canadian full-time student’s university tuition and fees have risen by 58 percent since 1998, from $3,601 to $4,524.”

    58%? Not according to my calculator. Just 26%…

  40. Graeme: If you read page 8 of EPI’s report, you’ll see that 58% is the increase if inflation is not taken into account, which is how Statistics Canada displays the figures. With inflation considered, you are correct, the percentage increase is 26%.

  41. It shouldn’t escape notice that professional programs have doubled or tripled tuition over the past decade. For medical school in particular, this has meant tuition going from typical undergraduate levels (e.g. ~$6500 per year) to as high as $17,000 per year. Working is not really feasible generally during the academic year, which is a full month and a half longer than the undergrad fall/winter terms, leaving only two summers in which to work or to pursue paid research projects (the third summer is fully devoted to clinical training). The result are debtloads on the order of $100,000 plus whatever was accumulated during the undergraduate years. It can and will be paid off in time, but at the cost of large payments during the first years of residency, diminished financial security, and perverse incentives for choosing more lucrative career paths (i.e. generally not family med).

    I am not of the mind that tuition can or should be eliminated, but it should be kept to reasonable levels that keep student debt to similarly reasonable levels. What these levels are is up for debate, but they certainly are greatly exceeded right now.

  42. I just want to say I have tons, and I mean tons of tax credits. In fact, this year my agency didn’t even roll my old ones forward because I have so many. Do you want to know what these credits mean to me? NOTHING. My income last year was $9000.00. This income was from a full time summer job and a part-time job through 6 of the 8 months of school. What good are tax credits if I don’t have the income to use them?

  43. Worked five years in telecom after graduating comm. college. Paid down $5k of $25K fed-prov. loan debt. Have never had a decent job since the dot com bubble burst. Student loan creditors hounding me ever since. Now on welfare and looking after my 85 year-old mother.

    I could have done Lakehead’s 3year diploma-engineering degree, because I was accepted and marks good enough in third year. No money though, and the feds wouldn’t loan me any more either. I discovered that I just can’t compete with younger and more well educated people from other countries who come to Canada and are hired in telecom and related IT fields. I never quite gained enough experience or training to find me that next decent job after their economy went for a nose dive.

    What makes me angry is that a veterans affairs person told me and my family that post-secondary costs would be covered for me. This was in 1980 after my dad died. He was a veteran of North African and Italian campaigns WW II. I still have his war medals. I hate this country and am looking at taking a job teaching English somewhere in Asia, because I want to do something meaningful instead of serving coffee and donuts or flipping burgers in this pile of junk economy so reliant on sending energy and raw materials to the US.

  44. Pingback: Cough Up the Cash: Can You Pay Tuition? « Who Wants To Be A Registrar?