University is a gateway into a new life for many fledging first years, but it can also be a violent shove into a world of new pressures. Finding your way to class is one thing, but having to worry about whether or not you have enough money to pay for your next meal is quite another. This hypothetical situation may seem a little far-fetched to some of you, but James Kusie, President of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations is adamant that not having enough money to eat is a harsh reality for many students.
"It's a real problem" said Kusie from his office in Ottawa. "The federal government removed $3.9 billion in transfer payments in the mid-nineties and has been very slow reinvesting. Tuition increased 137 per cent between 1991 and 2003, and that's absolutely astronomical."
One of the results of the tuition hikes of the mid-'90s has been the mass opening of campus food banks nation wide. In a joint study by CASA and the Canadian Association of Food Banks this summer, it was discovered that nearly one-quarter of campuses in Canada have food banks, and 90 per cent of students surveyed say they opened as a direct cause of skyrocketing tuition.
"It's a humbling experience to have a student standing in your office telling you that they don't have enough money to stay in school," Kusie said of his experience as a student leader at the University of Manitoba. "Even with student loans, the assessment criteria doesn't allow the amount of the loan to be reflective of what student costs are."
CASA is lobbying the federal government for what they call a "Pan-Canadian Accord," forcing the federal government and the provinces to sit down and agree upon a dedicated transfer specifically for post-secondary education, and thereby significantly decreasing tuition costs.
With the provincial election looming just over the horizon, many Albertans are wondering exactly what Premier Ralph Klein's government plans to do with their enormous surplus, and re-investing in education has been mentioned.
"We're going to have a six to nine billion dollar surplus in Alberta this year, and that's after the debt has been paid off," said University of Calgary Students' Union President Bryan West. "If they took only one hundred million of that and put it into education, that would do absolute wonders for us."
According to CASA, children of high-income parents are two and a half times more likely to attend a post-secondary institution than children of low-income parents.
"Right now we have a system that faces the reality of turning into a two-tiered system," said Kusie. "And as Canadians, I don't think we would value a system like that."
An exciting new life, or a violent shove into an abyss of new problems? The answer to this question is ultimately left up to politicians and, of course, the almighty dollar.