Students are becoming strapped for funds

At this time of year, students are getting ready to attend a college or university.

They have been congratulating themselves for gaining admission to a post-secondary institution, but they will find clearing that hurdle only means their problems are just beginning.

They may naively believe their life is devoid of any major difficulties. It usually is an enviable set-up, given the weak job market at the present time. All but forgotten is the eventual letdown.

They must face a harsh financial reality. There are hurdles, pending costs, tuition, books, fees, possibly room and board and everyday living expenses, amounting to thousands of dollars a year. Next year will require even more money.

That is ominous for students and the people who fund them. Parents have lost jobs and have seen their savings melt away. They are prone to ask for more money or for financial aid.

Few colleges or universities are in a position to help. Almost all provincial treasuries are strapped and are thinking about cutting funding, or perhaps already have done so. Most of the post-secondary establishments, therefore, are raising tuition fees. Too, private universities with big endowments are in a tight spot.

They had been prospering with large gains generated by rising stock markets. A recent study of several universities found their endowments have dropped by about 30 per cent, frequently as a result of imprudent investment.

For instance, in the United States Yale University invested heavily (of all places) in Russian timberland, a Chinese retail chain and latterly, in Chrysler Corporation’s bonds.

Endowments can no longer meet all costs, so tuitions have to be raised to pay operating costs.

Students can borrow money, but that entails problems as well. The danger is that like so many who preceded them they will be burdened with loans.

Some law school graduates are saddled with loans that could amount to as much as $75,000, and medical student graduates must bear much heavier burdens.

Hence any public-spirited individual planning to work in the public sector or in a semi-charitable institution would find it is not affordable.

If the younger generation is weighed down by debt too early in their careers, its members will not be able to start their own households, prepare for their own retirement or provide for elderly parents.

Those with interest due on their debt will clamour for relief, either from government bailouts or from lower tuition as a consequence of public pressure.

In any event, students entering college or university will find they have plenty of friends in the same situation.

Formerly a pleasant interlude for young people, post-secondary education now has been clouded by unique financial worries.

Bruce Whitestone