By Barbara A

Having watched proudly as my only child steams towards graduation after four years of undergrad followed by a very intense post-grad program, I have begun to reflect on the journey that got her there. That trip has been filled with ups and downs- my bank account was up, and now it is most certainly down.

When I was at university, the total cost of living away from home and attending school was between $4,000 and $5,000. Most parents will tell you that the modern  runs cost a total of about $25,000. If your math skills are weak, I’ve calculated it for you. Give or take, since the early 1980’s, the cost of attending a university has multiplied times five. The Ontario college system has undergone a parallel inflationary growth.

My path through three different universities was not cheap by any measure. Between help from my parents, a steady diet of Kraft Dinner and house painting jobs that provided a steady flow of typical student income, I made it. Essentially, I had to cover half of my ticket for a degree and a post grad. And like my siblings, I did. I graduated from two institutions with zero student debt. That is not privilege based on race. My forefathers and foremothers were not blessed with wealth- far from it. It is a privilege based upon some generational transition of very modest assets. It is based on having parents who stayed together, economically fueled by a father with a solid career and a mother who chose raising her children over a professional life where she surely would have flourished. Lastly, it is a generational privilege that baby-boomers have lucked into. Accept it. If you- like me- fall in the post-war bubble of babies, we are blessed by the hand of luck.

Follow the bouncing dollar signs. As a student, my average pay during the early 1980’s was, for simplicity sake, ten dollars per hour. During the summer, I would be able to save almost $2,500, which covered my half of school. My parents took on the other half. And this is where the story begins.

In order to match the experience my generation enjoyed, a 2021 student in Ontario needs to raise $25,000. Making the questionable assumption that the parents have the means to cover the other $12,500, the student must clear $12,500 during the summer. To match our experience, that is the requirement, plane and simple.

The cost of school has outpaced student wages with incalculable results, both economic and social. Few students can piece together half of the bill by working during the summer. Fewer still are the parents that can provide half of that invoice, especially in a home with one income. Student debt in this province will soon become a crisis, not unlike that in the United States.

The youth of today are facing obstacles that boomers never encountered, at least not at the almost insurmountable level that exists in 2021. When they graduate- more likely than not with a serious debt- they are walking into a housing market that requires tangible wealth, generational or not. What they most certainly do not need is a mortgage-level debt………….before they ever get enough cash together to actually qualify for a real mortgage.

If one contrasts the rise in student costs to student wages, you get a loud slap in the face. To keep pace, a 2021 student would have to earn a bare minimum of $25 per hour, with the high range being $50 per hour. In its simplest terms, our students are getting the shaft. And the shafting continues upon graduation, where their  likely destination is right back to the parents abode. We are setting them up for a very difficult journey. Not one that builds character, but one that might very well erode it, along with all that we hold as foundational values.

Any way you spin it, we got the gold mine, and our children are getting the shaft