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Margin Notes

A tale of two student reports

Two national student groups shine the light on student financial woes.


Like two end-of-term papers, two interesting reports were released this week by Canada’s competing national student groups, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Canadian Federation of Students. I applaud their efforts.

CASA released its report on Monday (Mar. 8), entitled the Canadian Student Survey: Summer Work and Paying for Post-Secondary Education. The report is based on a survey commissioned by CASA and conducted on university campuses across the country in the fall term of the current academic year. The report, says CASA, “examines the strain of high youth unemployment rates, how students fund their education and how cash limitations affect their ability to pursue an education.”

The report notes that, despite their desire for a full-time summer job, nearly one-third of students surveyed reported they were able to find only part-time employment last summer. As a result, students managed to earn a median of just $3,200 from May to August, and were able to save less than half of that total.

The report also noted that having fewer funds can have a particularly negative affect on student persistence; students from low-income backgrounds reported that they were more likely to either leave full-time studies for lower-cost part-time options or leave postsecondary education altogether if costs increased. A second report based on the survey will be released later.

The CFS report, meanwhile, released by the group’s Ontario chapter yesterday and titled The Racialised Impact of Tuition Fees, found that rising tuition fees and student debt disproportionately affect visible minority students.

The report compares average incomes, rates of poverty, postgraduate earnings and debt repayment between what it calls “racialised” and “non-racialised” students to evaluate the additional burden of tuition fees and student debt on visible minorities. The report found that tuition fees eat up between 15 and 21 percent of the average earnings of visible minority people, four percent more than it does for non-visible minorities. It also found that higher student debt levels and lower postgraduate earnings “conspire to mean that racialised people pay more, on average, for their education than do non-racialised people.”

I think the report is a good reminder that, while tuition is not a barrier for most students, it certainly can be for some disadvantaged groups, and that debt-based student assistance only exacerbates the problem for these groups. The report is light on specific prescriptions, except for the blanket solution of most student groups: a new funding framework that “progressively reduces tuition fees.” I’m not sure how giving a tuition break to the better-off white kids will help, but maybe the CFS can explain that in their next term paper.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Dean / March 11, 2010 at 16:11

    This is a good example of why government officials shred submissions from the Canadian Federation of Students. You don’t need a report to figure this out. “Racialized” students are, on average, poorer than “non-racialized” students. Therefore, it’s harder for them to pay for school.

    It’s not complicated, nor does it do anything to further their argument that tuition fees should be lower. Saving $100 on tuition fees won’t be the difference between going to school or not going to school. A $10,000 loan or a $2,000 bursary might.

    Canada’s schools have consistently been ranked more accessible than countries with free education by the Educational Policy Institute and we have higher enrollment rates, with higher quality education. There are still issues that need to be addressed for Canadian post-secondary students, but the CFS just doesn’t seem to get it.

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