By Sean Wetselaar
Sometime in my high school years, I remember seeing a birthday card that joked about tuition fees. It had a family crowded around a campfire with horrified looks on their faces. A young boy, in the middle of telling a ghost story, was saying, “…and that’s how much my college tuition will cost.”
I laughed. At that time, still years away from the realities of attempting to afford a post-secondary education, the joke was funny. Today it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
Paying for school right now is increasingly more than just unreasonable. With the average cost of many programs in excess of $7,000 per semester, simply covering the costs of courses and additional expenses like textbooks and other supplies can land a student in debt to the tune of tens of thousands.
Everyone in my generation has heard our parents’ cohort talk about how we’re just complaining about something that doesn’t matter. “Just work over the summer,” they say. “You’ll get a job when you graduate and pay off whatever loans you take on.”
Maybe there was a time in the 1970s when that was true. Or maybe they all did way too much LSD. But you’d have to be on some kind of hard drug to think that was anything close to today’s reality.
Here’s the truth — many students will spend a serious portion of their adult lives paying off loans in an economy that far from guarantees a job after they graduate.
And who is disproportionately affected by these problems? Low-income and marginalized students.
I should pause here to note that I was very lucky — my family was able to help pay for a chunk of my education and I was able to offset the costs of going to school and living downtown with enough jobs that I kept my debt fairly low. But I’m a priviledged white kid from the suburbs — whether or not my family made boatloads of money, society didn’t need to be worried about me.
They did need to be worried about an increasingly large percentage of society that either couldn’t, or would not in the near future, be able to afford an education. University, many people fear, could become a luxury for an idle elite.
But as a cynical young journalist, I never imagined we would see lawmakers take action in the way they have. When the most recent provincial budget was tabled it came with the ambitious claim that tuition would be free for students whose families make less than $50,000. Many of those whose parents make a little more would see tuition rates heavily subsidized.
That statement shocked me and many of my coworkers here at The Eyeopener. If you’re like most students that have followed this news, you’ve probably seen a mixed bag of coverage, with pundits and activists declaring unadulterated victory and others saying that the goals are unrealistic and impossible in this economy.
So, as we posited on our cover this week, what the fuck is going on?
We’ll try to answer that and other questions this week. But it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t so long ago even this discussion would have felt impossible. And if nothing else, the government has acknowledged there is a problem.
So maybe that ghost story could be just a story after all.