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The Progressive Economics Forum aims to promote the development of a progressive economics community in Canada. The PEF brings together over 200 progressive economists, working in universities, the labour movement and activist research organizations. Visit our website here.

The racialized impact of tuition fees

| August 26, 2011

Mainstream policy wonks often claim that tuition fees and rising levels of student debt in Canada are relatively inconsequential. They argue that though the costs of higher education for students (and sometimes their families) are increasing, so is post-secondary enrollment, meaning that raising the cost of post-secondary education clearly doesn't block access.

While enrollment is indeed rising, the increases in costs do not appear to affect all groups equally. Back in March 2010, for example, the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario released a report entitled The Racialised Impact of Tuition Fees. Among other things, the report argues that students from racialized groups are more likely than students from non-racialized groups to require student loans to pay for their post-secondary education. What's more, the former incur heavier debt loads than the latter.

Along similar lines, I've recently come across some 2005 U.S. data that further substantiates the thrust of the CFS report. The American data show that, for PhD graduates south of the border, race indeed makes a difference. Here's a chart I've reproduced from the data:

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Average education-related debt for doctorate recipients, by race, 2005

Black $29,295

American Indian $26,023
Hispanic $24, 819
White $18,141
Asian $13,939

Source: Survey of Earned Doctorates, National Opinion Research Center

N.B.: Figures cover U.S. citizens only.

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If our goal is to increase enrollment to post-secondary institutions at minimal short-term cost to the public purse, then senior levels of government in Canada should pat themselves on the back. But insofar as Canadians wish neither to create nor exacerbate disparities between groups, there is reason to be concerned over rising tuition and rising student debt.

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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