WOLFVILLE (CUP) — Fewer and fewer students are choosing to go to university in the Atlantic Provinces.
The Atlantic Association of Universities (AAU) released preliminary data on university enrolment for the 2007-2008 academic on Oct. 15, confirming fears that enrolment is in decline across the region.
The Atlantic provinces reported an overall 2.9 per cent decrease in undergraduate enrolment with 65,680 students attending university in the region.
New Brunswick was hardest hit with a reported a 3.6 per cent decline.
Nova Scotia is close behind at 3.1 per cent, while Newfoundland’s Memorial University (MUN) and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI), did not report such significant downturns, at only 1.7 per cent and 0.9 per cent respectively.
Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia is the hardest hit single institution, with a decrease from last year of 10.1%.
In 2003-2004, when Acadia’s student population blossomed with the Ontario double cohort class, the university boasted 4,329 students.
For 2007-2008 there are a mere 2,963 students, a decrease of over 30 per cent.
Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also have the highest tuition fees in the country.
Nova Scotians pay an average of $5,878 for an undergraduate education. New Brunswick students pay $5,733.
By comparison, the national average tuition fee is $4,524.
The Nova Scotia government promised to lower tuition to the national average by 2011.
A memorandum of understanding between the province and universities has already put a cap of 3.9 per cent on tuition increases. The province further invested in universities this year to keep tuition fees frozen.
Paris Meilleur, executive director of the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations, expressed some hesitation that tuition will indeed meet the national average.
?we’re hoping that the provincial government will follow through on their promise to bring tuition to the national average by 2011,? she said. ?However, we’re not sure that the investment made so far can keep pace with the promises made.?
Heather Elliott, executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, comments on the negative effect that high tuitions have had on New Brunswick universities.
She says that, ?With such high tuition rates, we are not as attractive to out of province students. It has affected how many people we can draw into the province and who will stay.?
Dale Kirby, assistant professor of post-secondary education studies at MUN, emphasized the importance of tuition in a student’s decision when choosing a university.
?Making tuition affordable is what needs to be done to fill universities in the Atlantic provinces,? he said. ?There is a point where tuition deters significant numbers of people, especially in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.?
He noted the significant increase of students from Nova Scotia attending MUN this year. Newfoundland and Labrador boast the second lowest tuition in the country, at $2,633.
?Although there is no empirical evidence to show that it is high tuition costs that is affecting enrolment in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, there has to be a relationship between tuition and the significant increase of Nova Scotia students at MUN,? Kirby said.
?There are so many students this year [at MUN] that they have formed a Nova Scotia Student Society.?
The decrease in enrolment is exacerbated by an aging population in the Atlantic provinces, combined with out-migration for more lucrative employment in the Western provinces.
?Overall, the drop in population in the region has had an important impact because many post-secondary education institutions rely, for a large portion of their enrolment, on the high school ?feeder? population,? Kirby said.
The news, however, is not all bad for the Atlantic region.
Peter Halpin, executive director of the AAU, noted that there has been an incremental increase in graduate study enrolment.
He also said that there has been an annual 3 per cent increase in international students over the last few years.
On the domestic side, though Halpin pointed to greater efforts in recruitment and branding aimed at students outside of the region.
Changing demographics, however, will continue to affect enrolment in the four provinces? education institutions.
?This is a wake-up call for policy makers,? Kirby said. ?We have to do something because if we don’t educate them here, they probably won’t stay.?