A Good Investment for Who?
No doubt concerned by reports that most high-school students cite cost as the primary factor preventing them from attending post-secondary education, the Alberta Learning Minister, Dr. Lyle Oberg, has provided a press release (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200309/15080.html) to tell us all how wonderful an investment a post-secondary education is. The information is presented in a way to convince Albertans that post-secondary education is something that should be taken on by the individual, since it’s the individual who receives such a great benefit from it.
And on first reading, this seems to make sense. At least, until you start to take in what the press release doesn’t say.
To begin with, The Honourable Minister Oberg cites that the average tuition cost for an Alberta student is approximately $4,487. He points out, honestly enough, that the national average is only $4,025. However he then presents a series of tables showing that even though Alberta’s tuition is only the fourth highest in the entire country, the wages for Alberta’s educated people are the highest in the country. Even ignoring the issue that the fourth highest tuition should not be considered acceptable for a province that has had record surpluses year after year, or that this year is devoting more than three billion dollars to a sustainability fund (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200308/15028.html#backgrounder) which simply allows the government to make budgets based on unrealistic expectations of oil and gas prices, there still is the problem that tuition numbers don’t tell the whole story.
A person who is enrolled full time in post-secondary education is not only spending almost $4,500 per year in tuition, they are also most likely giving up the opportunity to work full-time. This amounts to a separate cost of almost 23,000 per year, using the Minister’s own tables of what high-school graduates make in Alberta.
So now, instead of a 4 year degree being an investment of around $20,000 dollars, we are looking at an investment of closer to $110,000 in tuition and lost wages for your standard bachelors degree. Of course, compared to the wages that a graduate can earn, the investment is still a sound one as five years of working at the average wage for a bachelor’s degree will pay the investment off.
Yet there is more to this story yet. What Dr. Oberg has failed to mention is that higher wages mean higher taxes, which mean more money to the government. Higher wages also mean a better socio-economic bracket, which Statistics Canada has repeatedly tied (http://www.ausu.org/chat/index.phphttp:/www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/020801/d020801a.htm) to better overall health. Since health care is the single highest expenditure of any provincial budget, making the population healthier costs the government less. Post-secondary graduates are also more likely to become entrepreneurs, and small businesses are said to be what drives any economy.
Of course, the reason Dr. Oberg does not want to point out that getting a post-secondary education will benefit the government almost as much as it benefits the individual is that then the ugly question can be raised of what the government is putting into it. Since 1986-87, the government’s real contribution per student in constant dollars has not risen significantly (http://www.ualberta.ca/~cafa/mlafun.html). In that same time period, the student’s contribution has more than doubled. Should the individual be forced to take on a continually increasing burden of something that benefits the government (and hence the populace as a whole) so much?
Perhaps by writing Minister Lyle Oberg (http://www.assembly.ab.ca/lao/mla/contact.asp?RNumber=77) yourself, he can explain to you why this is fair.
Access for the Advantaged
Statistics Canada has released its Post Secondary Participation Survey (http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/030910/d030910b.htm) which details typically how much it costs across Canada to attend post-secondary education. Unlike many surveys which only look at the tuition costs, this one includes such things as extra fees, capital expenses, and living expenses. The result shows that the median student, of which half his or her fellow students will pay more and half will pay less, is paying $11,200 for an eight month course of studies. The maximum amount available for student loans is currently $40,000, or $4,800 less than a full degree will cost.
Now while student loans are intended to be supplemented by summer employment earnings, we have to return to the fact that $11,200 is only the median number. Fully half of the students taking university will actually spend more than that on a yearly basis, and that this is only for the eight months of the education, and does not include the four months during summer at all.
More damning of our current educational funding, though no more surprising, is that post-secondary is simply more likely to happen among those families with money. Families that earn over $80,000 per year are 83% likely to have a student go on to post-secondary education, while only 55% of students whose families earned $55,000 per year or less can be expected to attend.
What happened to equal access to all? When family income can be such a major indicator of whether a post-secondary education will be pursued, doesn’t this indicate a fault in the system?
Perhaps it’s time the government started paying attention to its own statistics.
A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.