Families on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder have significantly lower participation rates in post-secondary education, says a Statistics Canada survey released last month.
The first Post-Secondary Education Participation Survey found that the state of a young person's family finances is a major factor in determining participation in post-secondary education.
The survey of 5,000 young people found that the likelihood of pursuing education beyond high school is far greater for those from families with higher incomes. About 83 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds whose family earnings exceeded $80,000 reported some post-secondary education.
By contrast, only 67 per cent of young people with family earnings between $55,000 and $80,000 had taken some form of post-secondary program after leaving high school. The survey also showed that this dropped to 55 per cent when family earnings were estimated to be less than $55,000.
"The upfront cost of post-secondary education is clearly an insurmountable obstacle for thousands of Canadian families," said Ian Boyko, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.
"Without a national system of needs-based grants and significant reductions in tuition fees, our public system of higher education is becoming more elitist every year."
The survey found that typical university students spent more than $11,000 putting themselves through an eight-month academic term in 2001-2002.
Median spending for full-time university students - the point at which half of students spent more and half spent less - amounted to $11,200. This included the cost of tuition, fees and books, as well as non-educational expenses such as rent, food, clothing and transportation.
Government student loans are used by 26 per cent of full-time students to help pay for their education. About 16 per cent borrow from parents, a spouse or other family member, while 14 per cent borrow privately from a bank or use a bank line of credit.
Survey results also showed that young people who had their own savings were more likely to have taken some post-secondary education. About 80 per cent of youth who had their own savings enrolled in higher education, compared with 70 per cent of those who only had savings put aside by others.