Higher tuition fees and rising debt levels are driving more qualified students in the Maritimes away from a university education, a recent study concludes.
The report released by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission shows that fewer university students in the region are coming from lower socio-economic groups.
The report, A Lasting Legacy: The impact of family educational background on graduate outcomes, finds that students whose parents have only a high school education or less are increasingly unlikely to consider university because of the costs.
The report said that, between 1996 and 1999 - a period characterized by sharp tuition hikes - "the percentage of graduates from households where the highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor's degree or above increased by five percentage points. At the same time, the percentage of graduates from households where the highest level of educational attainment was a high school diploma or less decreased by six percentage points."
The report suggests the widening gap in participation by students from different socio-economic groups is the result of tuition increases and a shift in government and university policies away from grants and bursaries towards loans.
Students are also going deeper into debt to finance their post-secondary education costs, the report reveals.
Besides noting a 30 per cent increase in the average amount borrowed in three years, the report also registers an 8 per cent increase in the number of Maritime university graduates who had to borrow money to finance their education.
The report says students from less well-off backgrounds were more likely to rely on loans to finance their university education and to graduate with significant debt loads.
"Two years after graduation, graduates from less educated family backgrounds are much less likely to be debt-free, owe more on average, and have a higher debt-to-earnings ratio than their peers from more highly educated backgrounds," the study notes.
The commission's 33-page report is available at www2.mphec.ca/english/pdfs/A_ Lasting_Legacy.pdf.