Canadian college students torn between education and financial goals

Most students believe higher education is necessary but say it comes at a cost

Canadian college students torn between education and financial goals
Steve Randall

As Canadian college students begin their new academic year, there will be both a sense of excitement about the potential it may bring to their future and concern about the cost of higher education.

While almost 9 in 10 respondents to a Leger poll for education savings and planning company Embark believe that a higher education is necessary to open doors for them and 66% believe it’s hard to succeed without a post-secondary education, they are having to face the impact of current economic challenges.

That means cutting back on short-term necessities but also limiting their ability to achieve long-term financial goals. Two-thirds said they were anxious whenever looking at their bank account, leading over half (54%) to simply avoid thinking about debt and money altogether, exacerbating the problem.

“Many Canadians may not realize that the cost of education often outpaces the cost of living. Particularly with today's economic realities, saving enough money can be a daunting task,” said Andrew Lo, CEO and President of Embark. “However, this challenge can be a source of inspiration for both students and parents to take a proactive stance.”

Funding a university degree is costly with an average $96,004 required for students in residence, or $48,074 for students living at home based on 2022 figures.

For many that means taking out student loans and 53% of students believe that graduating with debt is part of the student experience, with 50% having taken on debt to pay for their education and 79% saying that it can be debilitating.

Respondents believe that on average that they would graduate with $26,773 of student debt, and that it would take them nearly 4 years on average to pay off.

Bank of mom and dad

Almost 6 in 10 poll participants had received help from their parents with the belief that they would pay for up to 60% of their costs if they asked. Two thirds have a part-time job although this can be challenging to balance alongside studying.

The survey revealed that 68% of students wish they saved more before going to school and 63% would like to improve their own finances, but do not know how.

Eighty-three per cent of students said that the financial realities of being a student can affect academic performance - with 41% noting that it has impacted their own grades - and 30% have considered dropping out of their post-secondary program because of money.

“Financial struggles do not exist in isolation. The mental burden can affect overall well-being and even academic performance. Moreover, such struggles can influence future career decisions, as students may feel restricted or unable to pursue their desired path due to financial constraints,” added Lo.