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University students work twice as long to earn tuition as 1972 counterparts

The average university student in Ontario has to work almost 18 weeks at minimum wage to pay for one year of the average tuition of $7,259 — about twice as long as their parents would have had to work in 1972, say new figures from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

A stark interactive map of Canada released Tuesday by the CCPA shows the number of weeks, months and — in deregulated professional programs like dentistry and medicine — years that students have to work to afford higher learning across Canada, which has the highest tuition in the country.

“This proves my generation does have a tougher time paying for post-secondary education, and the extraordinary lengths students have to go to pay for it that previous generations did not,” said Alastair Woods, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, Ontario.

By clicking on a province and a particular program illustrated on the map, viewers can see the soaring cost of degrees over 40 years, both in dollars and the number of hours a student would have to work at a minimum wage to afford it.

In Ontario, compared to the number of hours they would have had to work to pay a year’s tuition in 1972;

  • Arts students now must work 572 hours at minimum wage to pay the average tuition of $5,866 — nearly twice as many hours;

  • Business students now must work 865 hours at minimum wage to pay their $8,865 tuition — more than twice as many hours;

  • Engineering students must now work 969 hours to pay their $9,929 tuition — more than twice as many hours;

  • Law students must now work 1,389 hours to pay their average $14,238 tuition — almost five times as many hours;

  • Medical students must work 2,112 hours to pay their average $21,648 tuition — nearly five times as many hours;

  • Dentistry student must work 2,961 hours to pay their average $30,352 tuition — more than six times as many hours as 1972.

MPP Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, said the report is misleading because it fails to mention the $1 billion in grants, loans, tuition rebates and reduced fees the government has brought in to make tuition more affordable. Moreover, figures have not been adjusted for inflation.

“We recognize the challenges of the cost of post-secondary education,” said Duguid, “but to ignore the measures we’ve taken to offset the cost is completely bogus and tells only half the story.”

CCPA senior economist Armine Yalnizyan said she has seen the tuition pressure on her own children, who have to work harder than she did to pay for university.

“In the early ’80s, I put myself through school on full-time, minimum wage jobs; it only took me a matter of weeks of work to cover my tuition, rent, food and even beer,” she said.

In 1979, Yalnizyan’s tuition was $740 a year, which she could earn by working six weeks (247 hours) at the $3 minimum wage of the time. In 2009, when her children were undergrads, the average Ontario tuition had risen to $5,951, for which a student had to work 16 weeks (626 hours) at the minimum wage of $9.50 an hour.

“Are young people worth less today?” she asked, adding it would help if Ontario’s minimum wage were raised to $14 an hour from its current $11.

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