MLAs hear how P.E.I. post-secondary students are feeling stretched over rising bills

Post-secondary students in Prince Edward Island say rising costs are affecting their ability to focus on schoolwork.

Growing costs of housing, food and tuition causing them to work more, study less

First-year student Mohamed Ateeq says he is concerned about the rising cost of living on P.E.I. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Mohamed Ateeq, a first-year political science student at the University of Prince Edward Island, says he was hoping he could focus solely on school this semester.

But his shrinking bank account has him on the hunt for employment. 

"Having my summer job… kept me pretty stable financially through the summer," he said. "But now that I'm about to complete that summer job, I know for a fact that the job market is scarce during the winters. It's definitely going to get tougher."

Although he managed to find work that paid above minimum wage over the summer, he isn't confident about part-time job prospects for the rest of the academic year. The financial stress is taking a toll on his studies, he said. 

"It's an added pressure we don't need as students at the moment. We have midterms and exams going on that are soon to come. And given that we are also doing two jobs, if that is still not enough, I don't know what we can do to make it better."

Ateeq is not alone in feeling the pinch of rising costs this fall. Over the summer, the UPEI Student Union surveyed nearly 700 students about the impact of affordability worries on their studies and their mental health. Nearly half of those who responded said the cost and availability of housing in particular would affect their ability to pursue full-time studies. 

Message delivered to MLAs

Representatives from the student union presented the survey results to MLAs on the standing committee on education and economic growth Tuesday afternoon. They emphasized the difficulties students are facing this year, with rising housing costs and lack of availability.

"Some of them say they get very tired from travelling a long distance to school every day," said Iyobosa Igbineweka, the UPEI Student Union's vice-president external.

Representatives from the UPEI Student Union presented to the legislature's standing committee on education and economic growth Tuesday. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"Some of them said they have to work more hours than they really need to... And some of them said income these days has become a priority instead of education because of the housing [situation] in Charlottetown."

Student union president Adam MacKenzie said he worries the added financial pressures are affecting students' mental health.

This year, 12 per cent of survey respondents said they'd had thoughts of suicide, a slight increase from the percentage recorded the year before.

"Every year we ask that question, hoping that percentage gets lower," he said. "This is an increase of one per cent. So it just goes to show it hasn't gotten better."

Busy days at food bank

Sister Susan Kidd, the chaplain at UPEI, said she's seeing the struggles students are facing first-hand. She runs the campus food bank, which had its busiest day ever last week.

Sister Susan Kidd, the chaplain at UPEI, said the campus food bank she runs has never been busier. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"I'm not sure it's an award I want to win, having the most students in need," she said. 

Kidd said while holding down a job during the school year used to be optional for university students, it's now almost a necessity for most.

"The stress is off the scale," she said. "We try to create an environment where they can focus on their academics.  But if they're hungry, they can't do that."

With files from Steve Bruce


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