Imagine spending double the time you planned to get your degree and start your career. That is the reality facing some university students who can’t afford to take a full course load.
After 10 years of consecutive tuition hikes, some Saskatchewan university students are extending their degrees because they can only afford to take a few classes per semester.
“I couldn’t afford to pay my tuition so I had to work full time,” said Emery Alberts who is in her fifth year as a part-time student at the University of Regina.
She expects to take eight years to finish her four-year undergraduate degree in psychology, but that wasn’t what she wanted when she started out.
“That wasn’t the original plan, I would have loved to have the regular student experience where you know, you take your full-time classes and you’re there for only four years, but it just didn’t work out that way for me,” she said.
Alberts is paying her way through school on her own, without the benefit of help from family or scholarships. In the five years she has been at the U of R, tuition has increased by 18 per cent.
Even working full-time as an educational assistant this year she had to apply for a student loan because her salary wouldn’t stretch to cover living expenses plus tuition for two or three classes per semester.
“With the tuition increases it’s getting harder to save up that money for those classes because it is significantly larger,” Alberts said.
For her part, Alberts just feels frustrated with the cost and the time it’s taking to get her education to advance her career.
“I’m kind of stationary, I’m not going forward in my life, I’m not going backwards because I’m just taking so long to get through this degree,” Alberts said.
If the trend of yearly tuition hikes continues, she could see more students dropping down to only two classes because they can’t afford more.
When Cade Eastwood started his music degree at the University of Regina in 2012, he said his average tuition per class was about $700 and now it’s closer to $900.
“I work a summer job that goes specifically to paying for school and starting that job over the summer of 2012 going into school, it paid for almost both semesters entirely just working that job over the four months,” Eastwood said. “And now it close to covers one of those semesters as opposed to both,” Eastwood explained, noting that’s only for three classes per semester.
Those tuition increases are part of the reason he has extended his four-year degree program into his seventh year on campus. He said he has had to cut down on the number of classes he takes each year partially just because of increasing fees and tuition.
“It definitely makes the question of whether or not to go to school a lot more difficult for some students,” Eastwood commented.
For Canadian students taking undergraduate degrees at the University of Regina, the average cost of tuition has increased by 36 per cent in the last decade. In that time the rate of inflation has gone up by 17 per cent in 10 years and eight per cent in five years.
Full-time students re-thinking plans to pay
Statistics Canada shows the average tuition in Saskatchewan 10 years ago for a full-time student was just over $5,000 per year.
This year average annual tuition has hit $7,500 accounting for all post-secondary institutions in the province.
Katia Georgeson is in her fourth year of an education degree and also finds it challenging to keep up with annual tuition increases.
“Every year it almost is like you’re paying for an extra class’s worth is what it seems like to me,” she commented. “You’re still taking the same amount of classes but it’s almost like they tack on the price of an extra class, at least for my department.”
Her current tuition is about $3,800 per semester for a full course load of five classes or $7,600 annually.
“When I first started I was pretty much around an even $3,000 a semester for school so within the last three years, this being my fourth, I’m paying an extra $800 to $900 per semester.”
Georgeson has managed to find the money to pay for a full course load and will finish her degree in four years. She said dealing with annual increases makes it really hard to plan and save for an education.
“You start out and you make your plan of what you’re going to do and then they’re like ‘Oh no, tuition increases,’ so now you’re looking for that extra money,” Georgeson said.
She manages to pay her way through a combination of student loans, scholarships, part-time work and full-time summer jobs, but she knows some people who have to make the choice to work more and take fewer classes.
“I’d say the biggest challenge is time, I find myself spending more time looking for scholarships and looking for jobs and that’s time you could be spending elsewhere but it’s really hard when you’re spending time thinking ‘OK how am I going to pay for school this year?’”
Operating costs increasing, government funding flat
The university administration said the tuition hikes are a result of government funding not keeping up with increasing operating expenses.
Salaries and benefits for faculty and staff members represent 75 per cent of the operating expenses for the U of R.
In five years those salaries have increased by 17 per cent. Meanwhile, since 2012 the breakdown of revenue for the university has switched from a 60 to 30 per cent split between government and tuition to tuition now covering nearly 40 per cent of university revenue while government grants have dropped down to 51 per cent.
While tuition has increased every year for the past decade, the university is also directing more of that money toward financial aid programs for students.