For the last several decades we have experienced educational fee inflation. The cost of a post-secondary education has increased, as has the amount of education it takes to stay competitive.
University tuition fees in Canada rose 40 per cent in a decade and some say they expect them to rise another 14 per cent in the next four years.
The government decided long ago that the cost of education would be free to students until the end of high school. The end of high school is no longer an acceptable finish line for education.
At a minimum, government-funded, free, education should be extended for four more years after high school. Remember it was not too long ago that Ontario students were required to complete grade 13 before heading off to university.
A recent report by CIBC Economics uncovered some interesting facts: Three out of every four university students plan to upgrade their skills after graduating from their first degree, and the average student debt upon graduation is just over $30,000.
The report cites that the most expensive and in demand under-grad programs are in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM sectors) noting that there is a direct correlation between tuition costs and expected salaries upon graduation. Unfortunately, fee-inflation for these high-tuition programs is increasing the fastest, leaving students with a far greater debt load.
No young adult with the motivation to continue their schooling should be blocked from achieving their goal because of financial concerns.
However, funding a post-secondary education is an issue for many.
An easy response would be to have students’ parents pick up the costs. This is not always feasible and currently parents’ contribution only amount to 25% of the cost of a post-secondary education.
Educational funding comes from other sources including: 31 per cent from student jobs, 20 per cent from government loans, and 14 per cent from scholarships, grants, and bursaries.
Registered Educational Savings Plans (RESPs) were put in place to encourage parents to save for their children’s post-secondary education. A government grant and tax incentive were meant to be the motivation. Unfortunately, many families do not contribute to an RESP.
Co-op programs have become popular; where students have a certain number of work terms included in their academic program. Apart from being financially helpful, they offer an excellent combination of schooling and practical work experience which, in my opinion, greatly enhances the learning experience.
Career guidance should be offered in high school starting in grade 9. Graduating with a wonderful degree that has no practical use should be explained, and understood, before students leave high school.
Politicians would be encouraged to have a conversation with Canadians about the role the government should play in financing post-secondary education. It is socially responsible as well as fiscally shrewd.
Other countries have realized this. There are a number of European Union (EU) countries that offer free college to their residents, including Germany, France, and Sweden. In the U.S. tuition-free colleges are gaining ground in many states that believe college educated students create a strong workforce.
In Canada, a strategy to invest in four more years of free education could see the government collecting added tax revenues for decades to come from a more educated workforce with higher incomes. This is a winning strategy.
Education is a cornerstone of our society and one of the principal foundations of economic success.
An increased investment in education will help us all.