Madison Wheeler says students coming out of high school aren't prepared to deal with debt that comes with rising tuition.
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Madison Wheeler just started her first year of civil engineering at Lakehead University, a program that costs the 18-year-old about $9,000.
The program is one of the most expensive at Lakehead and the cost could only rise for future students as a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank projects tuition for undergraduate programs will rise 8.6 per cent in four years.
That's more than triple what tuition cost in Canada 20 years ago. In 1990, the average was $2,243.
The national average in 2013 is $6,610. That's expected to rise to more than $7,400 in 2016. The average tuition in Ontario costs $8,400; in four years, it's projected at $9,500.
Those costs don't include housing, textbooks or food.
"I think that's really sad," said Wheeler, who noted she can't believe how much tuition has risen in the past two decades.
It's a struggle for students to keep up, especially those coming straight out of high school.
"We're not taught how to deal with our finances like we should be. We're not taught how to deal with the cost of living and cost of groceries," she said.
"We're taught how to do math equations or how to write an essay, but when you go to pay your bills, you don't have to know that."
Students who enter university at 18 or 19 years old don't have any clue of what's ahead of them in terms of debt, Wheeler said.
"It hits you really fast. It's scary," she said.
For Wheeler, housing and groceries aren't as much of an issue as she lives at home with her parents, but she still had to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks and other supplies for her classes like a $200 kit for her drafting class.
"I know it will pay off eventually but some people don't have the benefit that as soon as they come out of university, they get exactly right into a job, or a good-paying job," she said. "That's when those debts come in."
Brendan McCarthy said students living on campus are paying the equivalent of two tuitions, so those that find housing off-campus are fortunate.
The third-year applied biomolecular science student is from Ottawa and spent his first year living in residence.
That cost was on top of his approximately $6,000 tuition fee.
"It seems like tuition is always going up," he said. "It's a good thing I'm getting towards the end of my education, so I don't really have to pay that much more."
But that's not the case for students just starting their post-secondary education.
Lakehead University Student Union president Ian Kaufman said students starting this year will have to pay more than $1,000 more in tuition by the time they graduate.
LUSU sees the effects rising tuition has on the students by how much the student services are used.
"Our food bank is getting accessed many times more than it ever was in the past," said Kaufman, adding students are also delaying owning a home and having children because of debt acquired during post-secondary education.
The rising costs are also affecting parents.
Kaufman said a poll recently done by CIBC says a third of parents are delaying retirement to pay for their children's education.
"Almost 20 per cent are delaying it more than five years," he said. "A lot of parents are taking on extra debt."
In the next provincial election, Kaufman said student unions are going to make a lot of noise about the cost of tuition and said support has been building now that people are seeing the impacts of debt on students and parents.
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