Is University Pay to Play?
By Erin Rebello
In this day and age, it is frightening to be a lower- or middle-class student hoping to go to university. With tuition costs soaring and numerous mandatory fees being stacked on top, dreams of a post-secondary education might seem out of reach for some. University has always seemed to be an unfair process, but now more than ever it seems to favour students from wealthier families, leaving students from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds in the dust.
It’s no myth that university costs have increased tremendously in the past few decades. Just 30 years ago, tuition was affordable for just about everyone, with undergrad tuition fees costing around $2000 after being adjusted for inflation. This was a reasonable amount in its time, and could be easily earned over a summer. Nowadays, tuition costs more than 100% more, averaging around $5,300; considering the current minimum wage, you certainly wouldn’t be able to pay it off even when working full-time for an entire summer. This disparity in cost has cut numerous Canadians out of the equation, leaving them either unable to attain a degree, or with crippling student debt to deal with for years after they graduate. With additional expenses for residency, mandatory meal plans, textbooks, ancillary fees, and household expenses, how can university costs possibly be fair for everyone?
Another huge factor to consider is the admissions process for getting into university in the first place. Though admissions processes are seemingly fair to all candidates, there are a lot of biases which pop up when you take a closer look. Let’s think about what universities look at when deciding whether or not to accept a student: they consider the student’s grades, extracurriculars, and usually their writing abilities. This might seem fair, but what if you don’t have the privilege of time? For example, some students have to babysit their younger siblings because their parents work longer hours, preventing them from taking part in an after-school club or sports team. Other students do not have the money to pay for expensive music lessons or elite sports leagues, and instead have to work to support their household. These factors (and many others) all have an impact on how a student’s application may be marked. The privilege associated with being rich is often the difference between a university’s acceptance or refusal.
Don’t Lose Hope
As the saying goes “If there’s a will, there’s a way”. Fortunately, this quote holds especially true in the case of university acceptance. As we move towards a more progressive society, there is an increase in the number of “helping hands”, so to say, for lower-income students. For starters, numerous bursaries and scholarships are made available to deserving students who demonstrate a financial need. There are also numerous essay contests with monetary awards for students who prove to be talented despite their extenuating circumstances. In terms of a fair application process, universities are starting to offer students more ways to discuss and explain their personal situations, be it family issues, a lower household income, or even language-barriers associated with being a newer immigrant. As the years go by, educational institutions are trying harder and harder to improve their policies to increase diversity by accepting minorities and students from lower-income households into their university communities.
Although the current university system favours students from wealthier families, institutions are making conscious efforts to become more accessible to deserving students, regardless of their finances. That being said, if you have a dream to attend university but aren’t sure if you’ll be able to afford it, you should definitely look into bursaries and scholarships; they might just give you the boost you need to make it affordable. In conclusion, although it is easier to attend university if you are rich, it’s important to note that there are a lot of programs and funds in place to help students financially.
Source for average university costs:
Carrick, Rob. “2012 Vs. 1984: Young Adults Really Do Have It Harder Today.” The Globe and Mail, 11 May 2018, www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/2012-vs-1984-young-adults-really-do-have-it-harder-today/article4105604/.