Can minimum wage cover university tuition?

Young people looking for ways to pay for post-secondary education often turn to minimum wage jobs. However, is Saskatchewan's minimum wage up to the task?

Saskatchewan ranks second-to-last for ability of minimum wage to pay for tuition

University of Regina student Taylor Groff believes a summer job at minimum wage would not be enough to cover her expenses for a year. She also holds down a part-time job at the university and gets financial assistance from her family. (CBC)

Young people looking for ways to pay for post-secondary education often turn to minimum wage jobs. However, is Saskatchewan's minimum wage up to the task?

Currently, the minimum wage in the province is $10 per hour, rising to $10.20 in the fall.

I barely get by every month.- U of R student Taylor Groff

At Saskatchewan's two universities, tuition fees vary depending on course load and program.

According to figures from Statistics Canada, at the University of Regina a typical full-time arts student pays $6,247 in tuition. At the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon, the average tuition at the College of Arts and Sciences is $5,633.

When evaluated against the minimum wage, the math looks like this:

  • University of Regina: $6,247 = 625 hours (at $10/hr) or about 15.5 weeks (at 40 hours per week).
  • University of Saskatchewan: $5,633 = 563 hours (at $10/hr) or about 14 weeks (at 40 hours per week).

Supporting a university education with a minimum wage job is not quite enough for Taylor Groff, now finishing her fourth year at the U of R.

She holds down a part-time job during the school year, lives frugally and relies on her parents for financial help.

"I would work full time, Monday to Friday 8 to 5 the whole summer," Groff said, in describing her typical summer. "And, like, I'd try not to spend money the whole summer because I knew I'd have to try to make it last as long as I could when I'd come back to school."

Groff said earning a minimum wage, alone, would likely not be enough for school.

"If I got minimum wage, I don't think it'd even be worth it," she said. "With the money I [do] make, I barely get by every month."

Groff spent last summer working full-time at a Saskatoon car dealership. During the past school year she also got about six to eight hours, per week, from a part-time job on campus — in addition to carrying a full course load.

She said help from her family has kept her out of a large amount debt.

"I probably owe my parents some money," she said. "But I'm really lucky. I don't have a lot to pay off, unlike other people I know who are $30,000 to $40,000 in debt."

One group, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, examined Statistics Canada's tuition data and compared it to each province's minimum wage and placed Saskatchewan second worst in the country. Ontario was last.

Advanced Education Minister disagrees with analysis

That ranking, however, does not sit well with Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris.

"More and more people are going to work in Saskatchewan for more and more higher wages," Norris points out.

The minister also believes that Saskatchewan tuition fees are lower, for most students, than the figures cited by the centre.

Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris says a number of programs ease the tuition burden in Saskatchewan. He also says tuition, for most students in the province, is about in the middle compared to the rest of Canada. (CBC)

"There would be 10 or 11 universities far ahead of either the University of Regina or the University of Saskatchewan," Norris said. "So, for example, at the University of Regina an average would be about $5,300 for tuition [and] at the University of Saskatchewan, just over $5,000."

Norris said the province examined the Statistics Canada numbers and believes Saskatchewan tuition rates are average for the country.

"We looked at the Statistics Canada report very, very closely," Norris said. "In fact, when we take apples to apples: that is, when we look at arts and science programs for the average first year student, in fact, Saskatchewan is in the middle of the pack."

He said Saskatchewan also eases the tuition burden through a scholarship program that can save students $500 per year, for up to four years. He said about 10,000 students have benefited from that program.

Norris also said Saskatchewan's tax rebate for graduates who stay in the province can shave up to $20,000 from future tax bills. About 50,000 students have signed on for that.

Replay the Saskatoon Morning live chat that looked into the cost of a university education. 

With files from CBC's Tory Gillis and Bonnie Allen


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