So maybe those pot-banging students in Quebec were right after all.
A new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives warns post-secondary education tuition fees are becoming increasingly unaffordable without forcing students to take on heavy debt loads.
According to The Canadian Press, the report from the left-wing think tank shows that since 1990, average tuition and compulsory fees for undergrads have risen by 6.2 per cent a year — three times the rate of inflation.
A year of study at a Canadian university now costs $6,186 on average, not including other expenses such as books, food and a lodging. The centre predicted that based on past trends and announced government plans, that average would rise to $7,330 in four years.
The report found Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest tuition at $2,861 for the 2011-12 academic year, expected to rise to $2,893 for 2015-16.
Quebec is second at $3.278, with fees estimated to rise to $3,664, or $4,472, had the defeated Liberal government's planned increases been implemented. The new Parti Quebecois government has promised to scrap the hikes, which triggered months of street protests.
Ontario was ranked as the least affordable province at $7,513, rising to $9,231 in 2015-16, while Alberta is second highest at $7,061, climbing to $8,827.
When the centre applied its cost-of-learning index, which measures tuition increases against the rise in average family incomes, it concluded Newfoundland and Quebec are the most affordable locales to get a university undergrad degree, while Ontario and Nova Scotia — where the current average is $6,443 — are the least affordable.
Report co-author Erika Shaker told CP the centre's research shows most provinces have opted not to keep tuition and related fees down, instead using student loans with favourable terms or easy repayment schemes to keep higher education within reach of families of modest means.
But that leaves almost two thirds of undergrads with an average debt of $27,000 when they're done, not including any private debts they may have incurred, she said.
"Yes university enrolment is increasing and that is frequently used as an argument to say people can bear the costs," Shaker said. "But students are graduating with debt and that has a lasting impact on how they can start their lives."
CP reported that Statistics Canada data shows half of youth from families whose incomes rank in the top 25 per cent go to university at age 19, compared with less than a third for those from families in the bottom 25 per cent.