Tuition fees: The higher cost of higher education
Last Updated September 1, 2006
For many post-secondary students, the rising cost of tuition tops their list of grievances. And it's not hard to see why. In the early 1990s, average tuition fees were rising by more than 15 per cent a year at Canada's universities. While the rate of fee hikes slowed later in the decade and into the new millennium, the increases still tended to far outstrip the rate of inflation. Broadly speaking, tuition fees have tripled since 1990-91.
So where does that leave the country's post-secondary students? Statistics Canada tells us the average annual tuition for a university undergrad was $4,347 in 2006-07. But the average hides a range of fees that depend on everything from the institution involved, to the province it's in, the particular program of studies, and where the student hails from. Foreign undergrad students, for instance, always pay much more than Canadian students.
- Number of universities in Canada: 90
- Number of full-time university students: 806,000
- Number of community colleges, technical institutes and CEGEPs: 175
- Number of full-time college students: 900,000
Source: AUCC, ACCC
Community college students generally pay less than university students. Academic fees are set by the individual institution and can range from $1,800 to $3,300 for an eight-month academic year, depending on the college and the program of study. In Quebec, general and vocational colleges (CEGEPs) are publicly funded, so students pay only nominal registration fees.
Statistics Canada's report on university tuition fees turns up some noteworthy comparisons. Among them:
- Quebec has by far the lowest tuition fees of any province – just $1,916 a year on average. But that average includes students from Quebec as well as those from the rest of Canada. Surely the fees are the same, you say? Not in Quebec. If you live in the province, your tuition is just $1,668 – less than half the average tuition in the rest of the country. Quebec students can thank a tuition fee freeze that's been in place since the late 1990s. But for all out-of-province Canadian students, tuition soars to about $4,913. It's the only province to charge out-of-province Canadian students more than the homegrown variety.
- Nova Scotia has the highest undergraduate tuition fees of any province. At an average of $6,571, they are more than $2,200 higher than the national average.
- Since 1990, the greatest tuition fee increases have come in Alberta, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. Alberta's undergraduate fees have almost quadrupled in that period. Since 2001, British Columbia students have seen their fees almost double as a six-year tuition freeze was removed in 2002.
- Student groups in Newfoundland and Labrador may have some things to complain about, but rising tuition isn't one of them. Since 2001, the average undergrad fee has actually dropped by 14.1 per cent.
Tuition fees vary dramatically – even within the same institution – depending on the program. At many universities, students enrolled in arts programs are charged the least. But at some universities, programs like commerce, education or computer science attract higher fees than arts programs, even though they may be offered by the faculty of arts. Engineering students usually pay more than the average student in a general science program.
When it comes to the professional programs of medicine, law, and dentistry … well, the sky seems to be the limit. Many provinces have ramped up the fees for these programs. The average tuition fee for Canadian law students, for instance, is $7,221. But that includes provinces where the fees are all still regulated. Law students at McGill University pay just $1,668 (if they're Quebec residents) as that province still regulates fees for its professional programs. But in Ontario, the prospective law student at Queen's University pays $9,678.
Percentage of overall post-secondary education costs that are covered by tuition fees: 11 per cent
Source: Government of Canada
Dentistry is the most expensive professional program. At Dalhousie University, for example, the cost of tuition, dental instruments, clinic fees and other fees totals $77,000 over the four years of the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. And that doesn't include food or lodging.
Getting that MBA can also be an exceedingly costly exercise. Want an MBA from UBC's Sauder School of Business? That will be $36,000 for the 15-month program, please.
It's possible to pay more. The 15-month executive MBA program at Queen's University, for instance, costs $75,000. But that includes everything. Students enrolled in executive MBA programs, it should be pointed out, almost always have their fees paid by their employers.
And finally, let's not forget what are called "ancillary fees." These are compulsory extra charges over and above tuition to cover things such as athletic programs, health services and student associations. The bundle of these extra fees will add $619 to the average university bill for a full-time undergrad in 2006-07. Add in room and board, and you can see why it's not uncommon for students to graduate with $40,000 of debt. The good news? The Association of Colleges and Universities of Canada says grads earn $1 million more over their lifetime than those with no post-secondary education.
- Registered Education Savings Plans - Frequently Asked Questions
- 2006-07 University Tuition Fee Survey — from Statistics Canada
- Student Loan Estimator Calculator from Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSDC)
- Education Cost Calculator from HRSDC
- Student Budget Estimator Calculator from HRSDC
- Loan Repayment Calculator from HRSDC
- Edulinx Canada
- National Student Loans Service Centre
- Lifelong Learning Plan from Canada Revenue Agency
- Canada Student Loans from The Canadian Federation of Students
- Consumer Tips on Collection Agencies from Industry Canada
- Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
- Online Directory of Canadian Universities
- Association of Canadian Community Colleges
- Canadian Federation of Students
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