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Price and prejudice

Does rising tuition deter potential students?

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The rising cost of tuition isn't the only factor affecting prospective post-secondary students, according to a recent report by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

The report, titled Why Don't They Go On? Factors Affecting the Decisions of Youth Not to Pursue Post-Secondary Education, examines the reasons preventing students from continuing their education after high school. It found that while cost was the single most given reason for not pursuing post-secondary education, 77 per cent of students surveyed listed a number of other non-financial reasons as well.

"Before financial barriers, there are a whole host of other issues that need to be addressed," said Sheamus Murphy, spokesperson for the Millennium Foundation. These include student ability, perceived value of education and whether or not the students' parents had attended a post-secondary institution as well.

The Canadian Federation of Students, a federal lobby group representing 60 colleges and universities across Canada, believes that the findings reported by the Millennium Foundation are misguiding. CFS National Chair Ian Boyko noted that the most cited reason for not pursuing post-secondary education was cost, listed by 23 per cent of students surveyed.

"They chose to gloss over that specific result and highlight the fact that there's a myriad of other social roles," he said. "I think that in some ways, every time a credible study comes out, it's an admission of failure for the Millennium Foundation. Instead of drawing attention to the real issues, they create distractions."

Murphy, however, insisted that the report isn't denying the relevance of high tuition costs.

"I think [the CFS] is totally off base," he said. "There's nothing in our report that says financial barriers aren't important."

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, of which the University of Calgary is a member, did not react to the report. National Director Liam Arbuckle suggested the CFS claims were not grounded.

"We don't think that because of the report, the Millennium Foundation is going to start cutting assistance," said Arbuckle. "I think that is purely reactionary. We want to make sure those who have the desire and talent to go to post-secondary education can go."

Murphy expressed the desire to see the information in the report used by policy makers to improve high school students' awareness of post-secondary prerequisites, program options and the advantages of attending a post-secondary institution.

"Our mandate is to increase access to education," he said. "In no way should [these programs] replace the scholarship program-it should complement it."

Boyko countered that this is not the role of the foundation. Instead, he suggested it should focus on student debt.

"I think guidance counsellors in high school should help students have all the information they need about university and college," said Boyko. "The Millennium Foundation was formed in 1998 to help reduce student debt and improve access to education. For them to turn around and point to these other factors is irresponsible."

The Millennium Foundation report can be viewed in its entirety at www.millenniumscholarships.ca.

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