Why is the cost of higher education so high in Ontario?


By Danielle Pinto

Higher Education Fees Overall

I believe we get a great education in Ontario that our government does help support. I also feel we pay a lot less than the United States. However, Ontario pays 29 percent more than the Canadian average. This information was found on http://cfsontario.ca/en/section/207. This website also has a few pdfs that I thought were interesting, that discuss topics such as the impact of government underfunding, the post-residency fees for graduate students, and the radicalized impact of tuition fees. I am curious to hear what others have to say regarding our tuition rates (specifically for university).

If you look at the university fees by province: Ontario has the highest ranging from $2,574 to $8,756.

Hidden Fees

Another view I have is that as full-time students, there are a lot of added costs that are not fully explained to us and we often pay these fees without questioning them. There are also fees that we are required to pay, regardless of whether we use the service or not. For example, as a Brock University student who commutes to Brock from Hamilton I am required to pay $175 fee for a bus pass that I will not use at all. On top of this fee, I am also required to pay for a parking pass to park my car on campus at Brock. Even these parking fees have increased over the years.

What are some other hidden fees that you have noticed over your years in post-secondary education?

Is the student debt worth it?

Hepburn (2006) writes an interesting article on whether higher fees in post secondary education are still worth the cost. She notes that “According to Statistics Canada, the net worth of Canadians with bachelor’s degrees is 70 percent higher than that of high-school graduates. Those with master’s and doctoral degrees have a net worth 2.7 and 3.5 times higher” (p. 4). I agree with Hepburn’s views that the student debt now will pay off in the long run. Although Hepburn also writes that even families from disadvantaged backgrounds feel that the degree is worth the “sticker price”, she fails to include families from disadvantaged backgrounds that do not enroll their children in post-secondary education. The Toronto Star supports this point, saying that “Cuts to government programs, such as unemployment insurance, combined with increases in post-secondary education costs are making it hard for the lowest income Canadians to compete in the knowledge economy.”


One thing that bothers me however is this notion that currently in our economy there is this big push for higher education. The standard undergrad degree and diploma is not being accepted, but rather employers base how valuable you are on education and experience. I feel that students who aren’t getting the appropriate experience end up back in college or university in another program that is either supportive of their future career, or another career to add to their credibility as a potential employee.

Has your student debt been “worth it” to you?


6 thoughts on “Why is the cost of higher education so high in Ontario?

  1. Hey Danielle!

    In regards to overall fees, I do agree that we are fortunate to live in Canada. Out of curiosity, I looked at how much tuition costs for one year at Harvard… Roughly $59,950 – $65,150 in one year!!!

    See: https://college.harvard.edu/financial-aid/how-aid-works/cost-attendance

    …In that case, I’ll suck it up with my average of $8,000 I paid per year in undergrad. However, I guess it seems unfair how Ontario has to pay more than any other province. In the end, higher education is a business, and like most businesses, the cost goes up, the greater the demand. Since Ontario has the highest population of citizens including the highest population of students I’m sure, I guess it makes sense. I read on that site your provided that “while post-graduate earnings have been on the decline for years, tuition fees and average student debt has been on the rise”. This goes along with what Nicola posted in the forms about there being a disagreement among the data, including whether student debt is truly rising or declining. This begs the questions: who and what do we believe!?

    To speak to your thoughts on hidden fees, I COULDN’T AGREE MORE! I can’t help but think to myself, “Can you guys give us a break!?” I pay about 10 grand already for tuition, why are you charging me $7 just to park in your lot so I can attend your school that I already cleaned out my bank account (and more) for? The bus pass thing really got to me as well. Imagine if we got charged $175 to walk into a store and then leave, even though we didn’t make any purchases. It’s pretty much the same thing isn’t it? On a positive note, I do like that you can opt out of the health and dental plan, I just find it “snake-like” that you have to pay for it initially. This way many people end up forgetting to opt out by the deadline and are forced to pay it anyways. I’m sure they get a lot of people that way who wouldn’t normally opt in for those features in the first place.

    In regards to your last point on whether student debt is worth it to me, my answer could go either way. I think it depends on what you get your degree in. As a wannabe teacher, I am upset that after 6 years of post-secondary education, I am going to have a very hard time finding a job in Ontario. I feel like I shouldn’t have to move across the pond to get a job. I feel like I paid for the product (higher education) and they are ripping me off by not leading me to a job. On the other hand, I feel like engineers and perhaps people within the health care system will likely have greater success finding a job after their education is complete. I don’t know Danielle. I understand and can sympathize with your frustration, however, I don’t think I can offer any potential solutions to this problem. There are just too many people (including more and more immigrants) who are fighting for the same jobs. This kind of competition doesn’t feel like the healthy kind to me.

  2. Danielle, you raise some very valid points. To answer your two questions, I have certainly witnessed hidden fees over my six years at Brock, some of which include: day care fee, universal bus pass, recreation fee, and etc. Similar to you, I have been stuck paying the fee for the universal bus pass–a fee which has increased over twenty dollars in six years, yet the cost to ride the bus in St. Catharines has not increased. I have been told throughout my undergraduate quests to reverse the fee for the bus pass, which, like you, was of no use to me in Hamilton, that it helps keep the passes at a low cost for the students who do use it.

    To your second question: I absolutely believe my student debt was worth it. I would not be in the position I am today without the Concurrent Education program at Brock and the costs that accompanied it. However, I have been in the presence of many bitter graduates who feel that they were ‘cheated’ by their post-secondary institution. They have the credentials (and the debt), but no employment. Thus, I find it peculiar that Hepburn (2006) noted that individuals with bachelors degrees have a much higher net worth than individuals with secondary diplomas. How is that the case if many individuals with these expensive credentials can’t find employment to attain a net worth of anything? This makes me think of Dr. Wiggers’ of HEQCO presentation in which he referred to the Maclean’s Magazine article entitled “The new underclass” http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/01/16/the-new-underclass/. It will be interesting to see what will be done in the upcoming years to combat this that seems to plague so many graduates.

  3. Thank you Danielle! Regarding your point about hidden fees, you can add further ripple effects such as the debt-servicing costs for individuals who must borrow money to pay tuition and how future repayment of such loans impacts delays in investments etc.

    My three degrees are from three separate Ontario institutions, where as an involved student member I read my fee statements and listened to debates about mandatory and voluntary fees. Such arguments include: I have no children but I pay for day care costs. I rely on health insurance so having a reasonable shared plan saves me money, but relies on many students not using the same amount as we pay.

    Most fees are based on the idea, that if we all pay a small amount then we can get a deal for those who need it. While this approach to funding a ski trip may not stand the gut-check/moral-compass test, there are many services that could be seen as reasonable. If I pay 50 cents and so does everyone else, students with children can have reasonable day care access. If I pay health plan fees, a student who may be otherwise unable to attend school and how already pays over $400 out of pocket each year can get the rest of their medications and physiotherapy covered. My $1 can offer campus a radio station, sexual assault services, safe walk programs etc…that I may never use.

    Outside higher education the same question is raised regarding Canadian health care, school property taxes etc. Arguments can be made in favour that range from moral responsibility and equity to a healthy workforce increases GDP.

    The fundamental question is should an individual pay for something that primarily benefits others in order to reduce the cost or make the service possible to exist. Lucky the question is not asked carte-blanche for day cares to ski trips but is asked often for specific fees. For fees students have the choice to pay for – it comes down to our empty pockets or another person’s need! A wicked problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_problem) indeed!

  4. Carolyn, I enjoyed reading your feedback and I totally agree with paying as you go for services that you use within a University. Some other student fees that I can think if are the Graduate Students Association (GSA) fees, and although I do support that the Universities should have governing student bodies, I do not get to see the work produced by the GSA, or where our funding from our tuition is spent from this association. One factor from this detachment is the fact that I am an off-campus student that commutes out of town. So again, there are just some services that we pay for as students that we never get to use. It’s unfair in some ways but I do see the benefit for services that could save students money such as health and dental fees or the bus pass for students with no car.

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