Post-Secondary Priorities: Dollars and Sense – by Ryan Jamula

I am a teenager.  No bones about it.  I’ve yet to attend post-secondary but I know its coming.  I’m not scared of going away, or trying something new.  

There’s only one thing about this whole ‘next steps’ thing that I find really scary; getting saddled with huge debt.

Going to university is extremely expensive. There are costs to apply to school, the cost of textbooks and supplies, and the cost of tuition rates aren’t getting any cheaper. It is no surprise that students are leaving University with outrageous amounts of personal debt.
I don’t know this from my personal experience; I know this because I have seen a single mother, supporting two kids, struggle to make ends meet in the post-secondary universe.

For her it is only more difficult. For a Brantford mom who went back to school in hopes of becoming a teacher, it has been difficult to say the least. I know this woman.  Her story is real and I don’t think she is the only one hit by these kinds of circumstances.

It seems there are many roadblocks that pop up when trying to find assistance. Over the past four years she has been going to school at McMaster University full-time while raising two kids on her own. This has caused great amounts of stress, and has been very difficult financially. You can only imagine how hard it is to pay for tuition, supplies, and transportation, while also supporting two kids.

Despite achieving top marks, financial support has not been sufficient. Although some OSAP has been given, it has been extremely difficult to access. Walls have been put up all around her. From delays in payments, to errors in processing applications, it has been a complete mess. The only aspect which was taken into account when applying for the OSAP was income. There was no consideration given to the fact that the student was also a mom putting food on the table for two kids. The system seems flawed when a single mother without any income, using RRSP’s to survive, is forced to beg for money even though she is an honour roll student.

Finding a part-time job seems like a logical solution to help pay for the costs of education, however OSAP only allows you to earn up to $103 a week while in school without it affecting your funding. $103 a week does not seem like a lot when gas is $1.30 per litre. Of course, there is always the opportunity for summer employment; but once again there are roadblocks. Firstly, there were very few jobs available to begin with; anyone who has been looking for employment over the past few years can testify to that. Although there were some jobs reserved for students, the requirements listed that you had to be between the ages of 15 to 30 to be considered for the position. Once again, this doesn’t help someone in their late 30s.
After weeks of submitting hundreds of resumes and constant job searching, employment was found at last with a perfect opportunity to earn an income by working through a local temporary employment agency. The position included back breaking work, no training with minimal instruction, and an environment where you are not allowed to speak to the person next to you and where you are treated with no respect. All of this for $11 an hour. Unfortunately, when you wake up the next day with swollen wrists and bruised feet it isn’t exactly worth it.

The situation has also placed a burden on her family and had an impact on her children. Having to work minimum wage jobs also requires that her eldest daughter has to babysit her younger brother. This prevents her daughter from getting a part-time job and participating in extra-curricular activities that are conducive to her own education and admission into university programs. It has also hugely affected her social life, as she often cannot go out with friends. Due to the cost of transportation, her son has had to miss out on the opportunity to attend gifted programming at school. The single mother, who used to donate to the food bank, has found herself using the resource for the first time in her life in order to feed her kids.
Every hard working student deserves the opportunity to have access to post-secondary education. Many deserving students, of all ages, are being denied the opportunity to go to school because they cannot afford to pay. Efforts must be made to improve accessibility. Any student who works hard to achieve good grades should be able to go university despite their financial situation. Students should be able to focus on their studies without worrying about whether they will be able to afford to eat.

This month, I am advocating for fairness in education funding. I hope that during this provincial election, the candidates will make post-secondary education issues a real priority. We need to ensure that any student that meets the academic requirements of admission to a college, university, or trade school also has the option to pay for that education in a way that is fair and affordable.

7 Replies to “Post-Secondary Priorities: Dollars and Sense – by Ryan Jamula”

  1. ClockWrk

    I agree completely with affordable access to post secondary education. I also feel that many post secondary institutions are slow to change in respect to industry needs. Our government should identify sectors in which our province wishes to develop and offer interest free loans or grants that focus on developing these industries. Conversely, I believe that if you decide to register into a program where there is no identified need in the community (ie. no jobs) than you should not receive government grants to do so. Low interest loans should always be an option.

  2. Jonasb

    Great story, Ryan…. People should not be denied the opportunity to advance themselves, and thereby, society, due to financial difficulties. How else can we grow?

  3. grad_mom

    I am in more or less the same boat as the woman you discuss and fund that only after completing my BA am I getting any good funding because, since I can't find a job in my field,I'm now a graduate student. Yep, it is certainly difficult to pay for tuition, pay for rent, pay for food, pay for what the kid(s) need, pay for bills, and then jump through all sorts of hoops to get any money! And then you have the "nay sayers." " WHY are you going to school at your age and in your position with having a family? Why don't you get a job?" Well, friend, have you looked at the job market lately??? If I wasn't at least getting the funding I am getting while going to school, I'd be living in somebody's basement. With my family! Speaking of which, if I do drop out of school do YOU have room for me???

  4. grad_mom

    I have a question for you Clockwrk. While I agree with some of your argument, how does one determine "identified need" in a community? If what you're saying is really what you mean, then WLU and Mohawk courses should be based on needs within the Brantford/Branty County communities only. The reality is students in Brantford who graduate from WLU or Mohawk may not stay in Brantford, in fact most of them will probably relocate simply to follow jobs. It is standard for students, particularly those who study at grad levels, to go to several universities in many diverse communities. Further, more often than not, students will relocate to different centres for jobs at least once. They may even work overseas. Don't penalize the students who take the programs. If a university or college offers it, the student should get funding based on need. If the program is deemed obsolete, don't offer it.

    • ClockWrk

      I suppose I should clarify my use of the term community. I use the term in a broader sense to mean "as a society" not to define a specific region. I think that programs should be selected for subsidy based on the needs of the province or I suppose in a broader sense, the nation. I agree that post secondary institutions should not offer programs that are no longer relevant or where there is no particular career path but colleges and universities are profit driven institutions. They will continue to offer programs as long as people are willing to buy the ticket. Unfortunately many of the programs are a one way ticket to unemployment and staggering personal debt. I watch how many teaching graduates are coming out of university right now and Ontario school boards are in a steady employment decline. The university is putting through twice as many people as they were five years ago and that was twice what they were putting through 5 years before when there was a need for teachers.

  5. MotherMother

    Ryan, you're really speaking to me here. I quit school when I was 15 because I assumed that even though my marks were always in the high 90s, I would never be able to afford university. I worked full-time at McDonald's and part-time at the YMCA, at FIFTEEN years old. I had seen my mother (a single mom) put herself through college TWICE while my sister and I were growing up, and alas… the only job she could get was in a sub-shop. Making sandwiches! I figured, "Well, I'm already making more money than my mom, and she has TWO diplomas… obviously our school system has very little to offer me". Now, I find myself in a similar situation. I have a young child (in Senior Kindergarten, which is only every other day), and I can't find work anywhere. Friends of mine with university education, honour students, cannot find jobs. I *still* would love to attend university, but I could never afford it under our current system. My sister is trying to finish a business diploma at Mohawk, but can't pay her rent… because of the ridiculous OSAP system! This is not affordable, accessible education.

    ClockWrk: I think that's a great idea, offering interest free loans for education leading in the desired direction of our work-force.

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