Alberta universities are increasing the cost of obtaining a degree, causing students to graduate with more stress than ever before
With the Alberta government’s proposed market modifiers looming over students’ heads, the stress of paying for university, while still affording basic needs, is only going to increase.
Many students rely on work, school loans, scholarships and aid from family throughout the academic year to achieve success in post-secondary.
According to the 2013 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey, more Albertan students are living at home and working compared to other Canadian post secondary institutions.
Rachelle McGrath, Health Education Coordinator at Mount Royal University, said that 1,380 full-time credit students responded to the survey. It showed that 55.4 per cent of students live in a parent or guardian’s house while the rest of Canada shows only 30.4 per cent.
“We have 25 per cent more students saying that they live at home, which could be due to the cost of living in Calgary or renting,” McGrath said.
Mount Royal student, Megan Howard, lives with roommates and says that having to work 30 hours a week to pay for school and rent is extremely stressful.
“I definitely have to work a lot harder at scheduling my life around work and around school, just finding the time to finish my school work,” Howard said. “If any little thing goes off it really interferes with getting my work done.”
Howard already has her Social Anthropology degree from the University of Calgary but says if tuition continues to increase, she won’t be able to continue her second degree.
“Considering how much they might raise tuition, I don’t know,” Howard said. “I did go to university before, I already have a degree, I’m just adding on to my education now so I can get a more professional career.”
“So for me it is worth it but it could get to a point where it’s not feasible. If I’m never going to be able to pay off my debt, then what’s the point of putting myself into it in the first place, when the whole point was that I could better myself and be more employable,” Howard added.
Infographic by Kelsey Simpson
University of Calgary sixth-year student, Kassandra Strachan, says the tuition hikes are harming her goals of graduating because of the workload she must sustain to be able to afford school and everyday living expenses.
“(I’m) worried about money constantly and the ability to pay bills and tuition (or that I will be) unable to remain independent without extra help and roommates,” Strachan said.
Lack of sleep, lower grades and constant conflict with work and class schedules, are some of the issues Strachan has had to endure as a student.
“I work on average 26 hours a week,” added Strachan who says early hours are the only time during the day she can work while attending school. “I also pick up snow removal hours in the winter because (the shifts are) early mornings. I get very little sleep which has negatively affected my grades.”
Jonah Petruic started at Mount Royal as a journalism student but changed his educational direction and is now trying to get into the history program. He says that working during school isn’t the best situation.
“(Working) is causing a lot of stress because I know I have a lot to do and then work doesn’t really help,” Petruic said.
Mount Royal’s results show that 72 per cent of students work one or more hours per week compared to 49.7 per cent from other institutions.
“We have more students who are working and of those students who are working we have a greater proportion of them working more hours,” McGrath said.
“So working in that 20 to 29 (hours a week) range which could potentially impact your academics,” she added.
McGrath mentioned that working while in school isn’t necessarily bad. “There’s some research that indicates working 10 to15 hours a week, students report higher academics and it can be because there’s a time management piece in there when you have to be doing school.”
How can students predict when tuition will increase or decrease?
According to the Alberta Regulation Post-secondary Learning Act on public post-secondary institutions’ tuition fees regulation, the definition of a tuition fee is the following:
Mandatory fees that are payable to the institution by students for materials and services that facilitate instruction in the courses.
So how does the government calculate tuition for the post-secondary institutions? The Alberta Regulation Post-secondary Learning Act, Section 5 states that: X%= A-B/B x 100
Where X% is the percentage annual change in the Alberta CPI; (Consumer Price Index) A is the sum of the 12 individual monthly Alberta CPI indexes for the 12-month period ending on June 30 of the calendar year that ended before the commencement of the academic year for which the tuition fee increase is being calculated.
This means that institution boards are calculating tuition costs not on their potential and current students, but rather a math formula.
But there’s always a loop-hole in the system. According to the act, the government can allow market modifiers, increasing the tuition for select courses. This idea of increasing tuition is potentially affecting Mount Royal, because the university submitted an application that would mean that business would increase by $150 per course, nursing would increase by $100 per course and sciences would increase by $50 per course.
The market modifiers have yet to be decided upon in Legislature.
According to a CBC article published in Aug 24, 2014, the provincial government legislated in 2006 that tuition cannot rise at a rate higher than inflation, which rose to 2.5 per cent in Alberta in July 2014 compared to July 2013.
However, the current legislation allows for market modifiers as a one-off increase to bring tuition fees in line with other institutions if the school looking to raise tuition can show a clear discrepancy.
However, the government document provided to the public lacks any evidence of looking into how students are actually paying these fees in the current economy.
It’s the hours that students need to put in to afford school and the cost of living that effect their education.
The NCHA survey showed that working during the school year resulted in a negative impact causing a dropped course, receiving lower grades or an incomplete stamp on a course. 24 per cent of Mount Royal students confirmed that working while attending school caused academic trouble.
But working wasn’t the biggest stress for students. The survey showed that the most traumatic subject for a student to handle was the financing of their institution.
“Finances were only second to academics and we had 46.8 per cent of students respond to say that they found it traumatic or difficult to handle,” McGrath said.
The Canadian results were only at 36.8 per cent.
What can students do financially?
Students living – or looking to live – independently can access places4students.com, a website that hosts adds tailored to post-secondary students.
Laurie Snure, Marketing and Operations Manager at places4students.com says that the website is a way students can look for housing near their school’s campus that fits their budget. They can also check out fellow student profiles if looking for a roommate.
“We offer free services to students, they can post sublet listings for free,” Snure said. “We reach out to the landlords, private owners, property managers and apartment complexes in the area surrounded the schools we work with.”
The website offers its services to institutions such as Mount Royal University, University of Calgary and Bow Valley College.
McGrath also recommended that students should check out what their school can do for them.
“Students should definitely check out the financial aid office because they can let you know if you do need to get loans, what that process looks like,” McGrath said. “They can let you know about scholarships and bursaries that are available.”
“Students should price out what they think tuition and living expenses and everything is going to cost so that they can come up with a budget and have it planned out even before they arrive.”
Strachan agrees with McGrath when it comes to planning ahead.
“Save up early and give yourself a cushion,” she said. “The earlier you start, the more funds you will have because tuition is not going to become any cheaper.”
“Try to find used text books from older friends or relatives and if you are living on your own you will have to find roommates. Check out what is included with your tuition, such as a gym membership, so you are not paying externally for something you already have.”
Both Mount Royal students agree as well, stating that finding a job and saving is a smart move before attending post secondary.
“Have a job so you have money to buy your books so you don’t have to take out loans for your books, have enough to pay for part of your tuition so you only have to take out partial loans ,” Petruic said.
Howard said, “When deciding on how much of a loan you’re going to apply for to really consider exactly what you need and not go too much above it.”
Both Mount Royal students agree that relying on scholarships can cause problems for students.
“I’ve applied through scholarships just through Mount Royal, I haven’t received any. My GPA is very high but for whatever reason it just didn’t happen. I have looked into external resources but usually I don’t qualify,” Howard said.
Petruic agrees, maintaining that simply obtaining a scholarship is increasingly hard due to the criteria each require for a student to apply for.
“I applied for a few scholarships in high school and got one. Since then, I’ve applied and been unsuccessful. Everyone’s applying now and I don’t meet the criteria,” Petruic said.
Editor’s note: In the interest of transparency, we feel it’s important to note the Calgary Journal is produced by Mount Royal University journalism students. Hannah Cawsey is a Calgary Journal reporter and a MRU student.