Posted in Features, Top Features

University: draining us financially since 1965

The cost of being a full-time student at SFU

Image Credits: Tiffany Chan

What would you do with $27,000?

I would probably travel, and put some of it away in a long-term savings account to help me with living expenses once I’m done my education, just in case I’m not able to find a job right away.

Wait, sorry, I got it backwards.

What would you do if you owed $27,000? According to a recent report by the Canadian University Survey Consortium, that’s the average amount Canadians owe on their student loans at the end of their degree.

This feature, borne of a real need to understand how students are expected to succeed, despite incredible financial pressure, will take apart that huge number. It will also help figure out where we can cut corners and trim the fat to make sure we can get through our degrees without going bankrupt.

 

Lodging
Unless you’re planning on camping out in the woods near SFU, you’ll need some sort of lodging arrangement. But that foundational necessity isn’t trivial to find in this community.

As I reported on in 2016, renting in Vancouver is incredibly difficult and horrifyingly expensive. Average rent was $909 for a one-bedroom suite, and the vacancy rate is about 0.7%. According to the Rental Housing Index, which aggregates data across Canada, more than 54,000 units are needed to make up for the shortfall in the Lower Mainland alone.

Sure, you can find a roommate or some other sort of shared-rent situation, but that doesn’t come cheap either. Add other expenses like utilities, houseware, and laundry, and that number starts creeping up.

For our sake of argument, we’ll estimate our living-based expenses at $680 per month.

 

Food and other necessities
This issue is particularly close to my heart. I didn’t quite understand how expensive food was on campus until my editor asked last-year me to try eating on $5 a day for a week. You can count on one hand how many places would sell you some sort of food for that little money, and it’s likely so little food that you’d cannibalize your roommates within an hour of getting home.

Also, in our age group, we love to go out. We spend a lot of money on food and drink that we don’t strictly need, but is part of socializing and maintaining our mental health.

British Columbians spend a little more than the Canadian average for food, and the total per household comes out to about $9,200 per year. Of that, about $2,700 is from restaurants. We also need to buy clothes and other random things, which works out to $4,475 per household.

But since we don’t usually pool our food spending with a few other people, it’s more useful for us to think in terms of per person. I did some simple math and the numbers break down like this:

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Tuition
The biggest sign of being a real university student: panicking every four months when we suddenly owe thousands of dollars to the university. For the average British Columbian university student, that cost is $5,534.

We sort of knew what we were signing up for, since university has never been advertised as the ‘budget’ option for post-secondary education.

As it stands right now, SFU charges $180.94 per credit for domestic students, and a mind-blowing $734.85 per credit for international students. For a degree (which is 120 credits), that means we’re looking at $21,712.80 for Canadian students and $88,182 for international students.

Jeez, that’s going to be an expensive piece of paper.

Tuition rates have also been on the rise; each year, the tuition cost itself and the compulsory fees we have to pay to the SFSS, SFU Rec, etc. increase by about 3% on average.

So, for a full-time student at SFU, their costs associated with attending university are something like $640 per month. A lot of our medical expenses are also wrapped up in this number thanks to the health plan that we get through the SFSS.

 

Bringing it all together
Being a university student is expensive. Vancouverites are uniquely hit by a three-pronged attack of expensive food, rent, and tuition. But by putting a number to our task of getting a degree, we can start to think about how we’re going to fund it, and just how much debt we’re going to be in afterwards. Costs vary across different programs, so be sure to check that these numbers apply to you.

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