Cost of Ontario university education adversely affecting families and economy

University of Toronto. (Photo:
Crown International Education)

Sources: Market Wire, CCPA

Ontario's system of financing higher education is becoming less equitable and more regressive for families, says a study released this week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA, one of the focal points of Social Watch in this North American country).

According to the study, if a middle-income Ontario family dedicated every cent of their after-tax earnings towards the cost of their child's university tuition fees starting on September 1, 2011, they would have to work until March 14, 2012 (195 days) before they paid for a four-year degree, reported Northumberlandview news portal.

"Under Pressure: The impact of rising tuition fees on Ontario families", a comprehensive study released this week by the CCPA, , says that the rising costs of university tuition fees not only affects families, but also Ontario society as a whole, added Market Wire news portal.

Tuition fees for Ontario students have increased by 244 per cent since 1990, according to the report, commissioned by the Ontario University Coalition (OUC, that bring together labour, academic and civil society organizations) and written by David Macdonald, CCPA research associate, and Erika Shaker, director of CCPA Education Project.

The report reveals that "a family putting a child into university this fall faces a much higher debt burden than a similar family did in 1990. For comparison's sake, a 1990 family held a debt equal to 93 per cent of disposable income; today's family already has debt equal to 150 per cent of its disposable income.

"By increasing downloading onto families and exploiting the parental desire to provide for their children, Ontario is severely hampering its economic and educational potential," adds the study.

"The raise in tuition has been of great concern for us," said Janice Folk-Dawson, chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario's Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee. "It is a very real problem for Ontario families. We have members who are affected as lecturers and students, in addition to non-academics, and children from both groups facing unreasonably high tuition fees. High tuition fees increase the divide between who can and cannot get a university education and this only leads to greater social-economic separation in our society."

OUC member groups are: Canadian Auto Workers, Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario, Confederation of Ontario Staff Associations and Unions, Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, Ontario Public Service Employees' Union, Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, Public Service Alliance of Canada, United Steelworkers, and the Ontario Federation of Labour.

"Ontario families are under increasing financial pressure," they added. "Since 1990, Ontario households have endured stagnant incomes and rising levels of household debt (from 90% of disposable income 20 years ago to 150% today). But a post-secondary degree introduces a third factor: since 1990, tuition fees have seen a real increase of 244%. This fall, average undergraduate tuition fees in Ontario are the highest in the country at $6,500. In practical terms, this means that households have to work much longer than they did in 1990 to make up the cost of their child’s tuition fees for a four-year degree. For example, it would take a middle-income family in 1990 from September 1 to November 27 (87 days) to earn the equivalent of four years of tuition fees—if they were able to suspend mortgage payments and other household expenses and dedicate every cent they made to their child’s education. But that same family in the fall of 2011 would have to work from September 1 to March 14 (195 days) to pay for a degree’s worth of tuition fees."

"The increased burden is staggering for low income families: in 1990 a low-income household would have had to work for 270 days (ignoring all other expenditures) to earn the equivalent of four years of tuition fees; in 2011 this increases to 673 days—almost two years of household income," Shaker and Macdonald warn. "When Ontario desperately needs family doctors, this discussion takes on an even more critical dimension. Families, already drowning in debt, are having to make difficult choices around the kitchen table about what to prioritize: meeting basic expenses, saving for retirement, paying down their debt or sending their kids to university. And even after households engage in a zero sum game of priority roulette which hits low- and middle-income families hardest, many students upon graduation are left with additional student debt."

More information
Under Pressure: The impact of rising tuition fees on Ontario families: