For the average student, finding the funds to attend university amidst soaring tuition rates is a struggle marked by working long hours at menial jobs, wading through debt, and crawling back to your parents for a hand out when the money runs dry. For those students from lower-income families, securing the resources to attend university is more than just a struggle. In many cases, it is an unattainable goal.
According to Statistics Canada, 40 per cent of individuals from high income families, which are classified as having an annual household income of at least $100,000, have a university degree or are enrolled in university. By comparison, only 19 per cent of people from low-income families, those making $25,000 or less a year, have the same opportunity to attend university.
An option for students from lower-income families is to live at home while attending university. This saves students a huge amount of money in moving costs, rent, food, utilities, et cetera. Unfortunately, students from rural areas do not have this option. Factor in commuting distance and students from low income families do not have the same opportunities.
As a result, only three per cent of students from low income families living more than 80 km away from the nearest university are able to pursue a post-secondary education.
"If I lived at home, I'd be able to make everything for tuition and books in a summer," said third-year geology major Fa-linn Woollings of her struggles to pay tuition.
Despite working over 50 hours a week at two jobs last summer, Woollings was still short money.
"School is twice as expensive when [your parents] live out of town. It costs me over $10,000 a year to go to school," said Woollings. "[My parents] don't have $10,000 to give me to go to school."
The University of Calgary's Student Awards and Financial Aid office attempts to provide money for those students who need it but there is only so much that they can do.
"One third of Canadian students under the age of 22 do not receive financial assistance from their parents. This is a national trend," commented Marty Penninga, Associate Director of Student Awards and Financial Aid. "We have also seen a trend in the increase of students applying for loans, bursaries and scholarships."
Last year, the U of C gave $7.6 million in scholarships and bursaries to undergraduate students. Bursaries are awarded based on a combination of financial need and academic merit, but if a student has to work during school to support themselves, the academic merit portion may pose a problem.
"When students have to study full-time and work part-time it makes it harder for students to get the grades necessary to receive a bursary," explained Penninga.
"I can't get a [part-time] job," Woollings agreed. "Next semester I'll have 29 hours of class a week."
The university is currently fundraising to provide more money for scholarships and bursaries.