In Debt and Full of Regret

A large amount of students after graduating high school choose to pursue further education by going to University or College. Universities and colleges are schools that help further develop specific knowledge that are essential for jobs.  At WCI specifically, there is a big push for students to continue their education at the postsecondary level. However, these schools are becoming increasingly unaffordable as tuition prices are on the rise. Students are unable to go to distinctive schools solely because they cannot afford the costs that come with University admission. These unreasonable prices will leave the majority of students with unpaid debt well into their adult lives. The cost to get into both University and College should not be nearly as high as it is right now because education is essential and anyone who wants to go to school shouldn’t be turned away simply because their family doesn’t make enough.

Universities in North America are money making machines. There have been numerous studies done to investigate just how in debt students truly are. In North America, students owe banks up to 1.2 trillion dollars total. Students do not have the ability to work full time because they are in school constantly. Along with the inability to work full time most students struggle to find jobs that pay higher than minimum wage. Most students do not have the qualifications needed to work at high paying jobs while they are in school. This makes it near impossible for students to not only pay for school but afford to live somewhere other than home or be able to buy themselves food. It is preposterous that universities think it is realistic for students to be making enough money to accommodate all of this. According to The National Post, in 2016 the average student can be anywhere upwards of $35,000 in debt.

WCI is a school with a large demographic of students from all kinds of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Some families can send their students to school easier than others. The wealth of one’s family should not determine what level of education they can receive. For families that struggle to find money to pay for postsecondary education, they often have to rely on grants and loans. OSAP, also known as Ontario Student Assistance Program, is a student financial aid program that makes it substantially easier for students to afford both university and college. OSAP provides both grants (money that you don’t have to pay back) and loans (money that has to be paid back). When applying for OSAP you can choose to decline loans and only accept grants meaning you will have to pay no money back to OSAP. OSAP is open to any permanent residents of Canada or Canadian citizens. The money provided by OSAP is money that can be allowed to cover expenses for tuition, living costs, books, and any other school-related fees. The amount of OSAP money offered to students depends on many variables including, whether they are full-time or part-time students, the education expenses per school, and family financial situation. The more money your family makes, the less OSAP you will receive.

There were many new changes for OSAP in the 2017-2018 school year. Some of the many improved features of the new OSAP include:

OSAP has been proven to be beneficial to almost every student that has gotten it. It helps to make university affordable to people who otherwise would never have been given the opportunity to go to school. It allows for students in low income households to have free tuition and helps those in the middle class cover costs that they also would not be able to afford. A previous WCI student, Julia P., who is in her fourth year studying Fashion Communications at Ryerson, owes credit to OSAP in helping with financial aid. Julia took a year off after high school which she says benefited her when applying for OSAP this school year. Julia explains, “I took a year off of high school which means I now qualify as a ‘mature student.’ This means that when applying for OSAP I don’t have to provide my parents’ tax information and only the money that I make myself.” With the new OSAP, if you are a mature student and make less than $12,000 a year, OSAP will provide the student with free tuition. For Julia, this meant that the number of grants she got from OSAP in previous years increased from about $2000 to around $9000. Julia explains how “there would be no way I could live in Toronto without OSAP because all that money would go to tuition. I wouldn’t have much money left. Fashion communication is a program that requires a lot of money to be spent on materials for assignments. The money required for these assignments can be upwards of $1,500. So not only do I have to pay for school but I have to pay for crazy rent prices, groceries, tuition, and other program-related fees.” She makes it clearly obvious how much OSAP has benefited her and how the cost of going to post-secondary is substantial, especially when it’s an arts program because “For fashion school and art school in general tuition is expensive but then on top of that we are expected to spend money on supplies which is just crazy.”  She comprehensively explained how OSAP has allowed her to go to school and help cover costs.

Similarly, when speaking with students who are still in high school I found the general consensus was that there is concern over the affordability of schooling. Victoria N., a current student at WCI who is looking into programs in the field of Biology has already started to become stressed. She tells us: “I am already concerned about the costs of University. It’s a lot more than you would expect, especially if you are planning on living away from home because you have to think of food and residence which are both crazy expensive.”  Similar in opinion, another student currently in high school, Abigale S. who will be receiving financial help from her family, describes, “The financial support of my family is extremely helpful. I think university would otherwise be unattainable for me because I do not have the financial means to pay for tuition, housing, and food. Out of 10 students I surveyed, 7 of 10 believed that costs for university are too high and should be lowered. This proves that there is a common belief that costs are very steep and even students who have not entered University yet have already considered how they are going to afford it.

As the average student debt continuously rises each year, it has been observed that there is an increase in mental health issues among students. A study performed by ‘The Canadian University Survey Consortium’ gathered information from around 18,000 graduating students from 30+ universities and discovered that the average student owed nearly $27,000. Among these students who have these insane amounts of debt, they found that the more student loans a student took, the higher chance of mental health issues early in their adult life. It is a never-ending cycle of stress. Students enter school in hopes of furthering their education and can barely afford to go there. They are then having to take hefty student loans which then lead to long-term debt which results in a disturbed mental state for many. A lot of these students who are experiencing these struggles are suffering all by themselves and there is no support system in place at most universities. Professors at universities across the country are trying to combat this by becoming equipped with training strategies in helping students who are in mental distress. They are learning how to deal with these vulnerable students and provide them with the support and strategies to cope.

Another organization, ‘Intelligent Environments’, performed a survey to further understand student debt. In their survey, they found that among the students who are provided loans that as many as 75% of them experience stress over the amount of money they will owe after studying. Within this group of people over a third of the people said they can’t even afford to pay for food each week. This is outrageous as it is causing students to have to choose between education, which is vital to a successful future, and eating, a basic fundamental of life. University not only leaves a dent in your wallet but also causes long-term effects on the brain.

Overall, the costs for university are too high and continue to rise to rates that are outrageous. University should be more affordable so that it’s easier for people of all socioeconomic classes to have the opportunity to go to school. Although grants and loans help to cover costs they still don’t do enough. Students across the country are graduating from school and having to spend years to pay off their student loans.

I believe that the frustrations that coexist between money and post-secondary education are insane. University is an amazing opportunity that people from all different backgrounds should have access to. One shouldn’t constantly have to be worrying about “How am I going to pay this back?” for years after they’ve graduated.