Many Sask. university students face tens of thousands in debt

Accounting firm BDO Canada found in 2016 that the average amount of debt recorded by undergraduates in Saskatchewan was $20,000.

Accounting firm BDO Canada says average undergraduate debt in Sask. was $20,000 in 2016

Students at the University of Saskatchewan (pictured) and at Saskatchewan Polytechnic have come to expect tuition increases every year. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Andrew Wiebe has close to the typical amount of debt for a university student in Saskatchewan, but says he's better off than many people he knows. 

Accounting firm BDO Canada found in 2016 that the average amount of debt recorded by undergraduates in Saskatchewan was $20,000. Weibe, who studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said he currently has about $28,000 debt.

"I'm on the lower end because I haven't taken student loans for numerous years of my degree."

"A lot of people [I know] are closer to $50,000 at this point," Weibe said.

U of S Arts and Sciences students like Wiebe saw their tuition rise by 4.8 per cent last year. Since the 2019 provincial budget was released U of S students have learned that there will be a net increase 3.4 per cent for the coming school year.

At the University of Saskatchewan, tuition covered 26 per cent of the school's operating budget for 2016 to 2017, according to Brent Kobes, the vice-president of operations and finance at the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union.

"Tuition increases are not a surprise, but the USSU would like to see the government and university administration come together to ensure post-secondary education is affordable for all students," he said in a media release Thursday.

Lines of credit, credit cards add up

Andrew Wiebe is taking Medieval Studies at the U of S, and has been accepted to a program in Toronto that would make him eligible for roles as a librarian and archivist. (Don Somers/CBC News)

Wiebe, who is completing his second undergraduate degree — the first was in English, the second is in Medieval Studies — credits an intense work ethic and bursaries for his lighter debt load.

"Because I make too much over the summer by a few hundred dollars every year, I actually can't get anything that's repayable," he said.

Wiebe counts this as a benefit, since he would have to pay back loans, were he eligible for them.

Michelle Statz, senior manager and licensed insolvency trustee with BDO, said many of the students who ask her about insolvency options have credit cards and lines of credit contributing to their debt load.

"It's not just the debt coming from student loans but the debt that's also been incurred while going to school to help with other expenses," said

Wiebe said he feels all his debt is worth it. With two undergraduate degrees from six years, he is confident that a job will be waiting for him after the professional program he's been accepted to at the University of Toronto, even if he has no idea how he'll pay for it. The program will prepare him for a role as an archivist or librarian.

Polytechnic students struggling too

Dallas Burnett, vice president of the students' association at the Saskatchewan Polytechnic Saskatoon campus, said most students at that school are also dealing with debt.

"I would say a majority of them do, based on conversations I've had with registration and various faculty in the institution," Burnett said.

The school's schedule can make it hard to find supplementary income, like a part-time job, he said. Most students are in class from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Dallas Burnet went to university in Montreal for one year, and now studies at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. He has approximately $40,000 of debt. (Don Somers/CBC News)

Diplomas and degrees at Sask Polytechnic take less time to complete, but carry about the same price tag each year as university courses.

Some students travel to Saskatoon for short periods of time to complete apprenticeships or take special courses, which requires a short-term place to stay and adds to expenses.

Burnett says student debt loads and credit card debt looks different depending on the age of the student.

"We are noticing some demographic changes within the institution where the students' ages are increasing," said Burnett, himself a young student.

"For me it's less about the fees and more about how to manage them, because I didn't really get that experience in high school and I jumped right into it."

About the Author

Bridget Yard


Bridget Yard is a video journalist based in Saskatoon. She has also worked for CBC in Fredericton and Bathurst, N.B.