Cost of Education Still Climbing

The next few years will bring continued steep increases for post-secondary schooling for most Canadian students and their families. That's the outlook in Tier for Two, a new report from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

If Canada's current government policies and trends continue, warn Erika Shaker and David Macdonald in their new report, Tier for Two, the next 4 years will see an increase of 13% in average undergrad tuition and related fees.

In dollar terms, the average tuition/fees cost of $6,885 this fall (2014) will rise to to $7,755 by fall 2017.

For a 4-year undergraduate program, this would surpass $30,000. And that's before you add your textbooks, equipment and supplies, travel and cost of living.

The result, if you're a high school student or a parent planning for your child's future?

You'll have to find new sources of income. Today's interest rates won't 'grow' your savings anywhere near as fast as your costs are increasing.

Deep cuts in government funding for post-secondary education appear to be the main factor. And the report reveals that some of the resulting increases for students get hidden in compulsory fees charged on top of tuition.

Since these fees are largely unregulated by the provinces, they can be used as a kind of a loophole.

The authors call compulsory fees "a go-to method for universities to circumvent fee caps and charge students more money, in part to compensate for insufficient core public funding."

(To add my own observation, another loophole is to tweak and rename programs so they'll evade tuition limits. This is happening in B.C., for example.)

While some provinces are trying to mitigate the damage to education affordability, the report shows a negative trend for Canada overall.

As a result, CCPA forecasts average tuition and related fees to rise much faster than inflation.

Shaker and Macdonald focus on comparing the provinces, as indicated by Tier for Two's subtitle: Managing the Optics of Provincial Tuition Policies. They look at the ways in which some governments try to mitigate the effects of rising tuition.

These can include cost limitations on the amount (notwithstanding the aforementioned loopholes) or two-tiered fees, such as charging less for in-province students than for out-of-province students 

As made clear in this report and earlier CCPA reports (not to forget my own Student Finance 101/Debt 101 blogs), there is a huge range of education costs and assistance, depending on your region.

Canadians tend to see themselves living in a nation with equality for all. But when it comes to affordable higher education, there is no 'Canadian standard.' Without that, there is no equality.

CCPA reports tend to examines the costs for middle and low-income families. In line with that, Tier for Two weighs the 'Cost of Learning' (tuition and other compulsory fees) for in-province students in relation to median and low-income family incomes.

Want to see the details of this report - including Canada's least and most affordable provinces?

You can download the full text from this CCPA page.