Office of the President

University of Guelph Presidential Task Force on Accessibility
Final Report

November 2004

1 Executive Summary

This report is the result of a year-long consultative and analytical process conducted by the Presidential Task Force on Accessibility. Section 2 describes the mandate and membership of the Task Force, and the process that led to this document. The perspective on accessibility as an issue has been deliberatively broad in concept, but operationally focused primarily on access to undergraduate education. Where specific institutional concerns are important, we have concentrated on issues as they are manifested on the main Guelph campus.

Section 3 explores some fundamental concerns underlying and affecting the discussion of accessibility as an issue. Accessibility is not simply a measure of participation, but inherently involves a notion of qualification, which itself complicates the notion of access. The core goal is defined— all qualified individuals should be able to attend university —and barriers that impede this goal are identified as the targets of study and mitigation. Three dimensions of accessibility are identified: economic, group and assessment.

The costs and benefits of university education—and the key issue of how both are shared between individual and society—are outlined. Costs are interpreted broadly: the report insists on avoiding the pitfall of attending only to tuition fees per se . Tuition, especially for a residentially-intensive university like Guelph, can represent less than half the total costs incurred by students, and financial assistance that only addresses tuition cannot hope to resolve fully problems of economic inaccessibility.

This is not the only accessibility issue which has special resonance for Guelph—our University has unique characteristics and capabilities that affect our analysis. At the same time, we must be careful to make the important distinction between system and institutional responsibilities and opportunities. We can break down some access barriers through unilateral action within our own sphere; others will require change at the provincial or federal level, and thus more advocacy than action from the University.

Section 4 discusses some initial perceptions of Guelph as an accessible institution. Results from a focus group with high school guidance counsellors point to key themes and impressions about university education in general and the University of Guelph in particular. Perceptions are crucial because many access barriers do not involve externally imposed limits or restrictions. Some important barriers are instead built from incorrect assumptions, as when qualified and interested prospective students nevertheless mistakenly conclude that they cannot or should not attend university.

Section 5 presents overall information about system and institutional baselines and trends that form the context for discussions about accessibility. This includes data on participation rates and demographic shifts, changes in the funding environment for universities, student debt levels and a summary of studies on the existing financial aid systems. This section establishes some conclusions that will come as no surprise—that funding for Ontario Universities has dropped significantly in the past decade—and others that might defy the conventional wisdom—Guelph has lower than average tuition fees, and significant student debt is not as prevalent as some have reported.

Section 6 examines the financial assistance programs of Canada, Ontario, and the University of Guelph in more detail, as well as the issue of student debt, which is inherently linked to financial aid as it is currently structured. A number of concerns about the procedures of the Ontario Student Assistance Program and the Canada Student Loans Program are identified. OSAP in particular suffers from an abundance of good intentions but extensive operational difficulties. The criteria by which the need for assistance is assessed have not evolved in accord with changes in the underlying economy and demographics of the prospective student population. The result is too many students and families falling into the “gap” between eligibility and need, and too many falling off the “edge” and unable to afford university even with the maximum level of assistance provided.

The University's aid programs—some of which exist in order to address the inconsistencies of government programs—are also reviewed. The issue of an appropriate balance between needs-based and merit-based aid is identified and raised. A number of specific recommendations are developed for aid programs at all levels.

Section 7 confronts directly the question of how university education should be paid for. The analysis leads to consideration of the relationship between the individual student and the general public. Both obtain significant benefits from the investment in education, and therefore both should share in the costs of that investment. The question is how, and how much? Arguments for funding university entirely through individual contributions or solely from the public purse are considered and discarded as equally unjustifiable, and instead, some principles for the sharing of costs between public and individual are established.

Implementing these principles requires an analysis of the underlying reasons why the cost of education poses an access barrier. In fact, the issue can be decomposed into three economic factors: imperfections in information about university costs and benefits, uneven access to credit, and especially perceived risk, which can deter qualified individuals from investing in education even when it would be their wisest, most productive choice. The proposed solution is a major reform of the financial aid system that eliminates risk by deferring the payment of the personal share of education costs until after the benefits can be realized.

Section 8 discusses the accessibility barriers that affect particular groups of people. Both systemic and institutional factors that impede (and improve) access for students with disabilities; aboriginal and visible minority students; mature, graduate and international students; and first-generation students are examined. The specific barriers that deter these groups also have common components, especially in the arena of admissions and qualification procedures. In contrast to the problem of financial aid, no single, comprehensive restructuring can address a range of issues at once. Instead a variety of distinct and targeted recommendations for improvement are developed and presented to various stakeholders.

In Section 9, the data and arguments presented in the preceding sections are reviewed and integrated into a wider perspective. We reiterate the central importance of risk as a perceptual barrier to access, and the immense leverage that can be applied to remove that barrier by the reforms advocated in section 7. At the same time, we explore some of the possible consequences—some good, some bad—of radical change to education funding, and reaffirm a commitment to the principles of equitable and responsible cost sharing. Some alternative means of addressing the funding crisis are also discussed, including fee restructuring and fee differentiation.

Another emergent theme is that enhancing university access is a task that requires significant outreach into the community and understanding of the individual student. Access barriers do not simply spring up suddenly when a prospective student applies, or attempts to pay for university. They are present in secondary and even primary schools, in community and social expectations, in the variation in preparation and perception that makes each individual different. Recognition of qualified prospective students needs to be done in a way that acknowledges qualifications other than just high grades.

The report concludes with a summary of specific recommendations made, and a comprehensive list of references consulted by the Task Force.

2 Introduction

The University of Guelph is founded on the belief that higher education is of immense benefit to individuals and society alike. By defining ours as a learner-centred institution, we emphasize the fundamental importance we place on maximizing the human potential and achievement of our students. Barriers that prevent otherwise qualified and willing individuals from attending university belie this ideal, and represent failures of opportunity that we must seek to reduce or eliminate. In our publicly funded system we must endeavour to ensure that university attendance does not entail a non-academic burden—financial or otherwise—that is too great for any qualified student to bear.

Concern about such access barriers has been growing in the last decade. The fundamental costs of higher education have been increasing even as governments have scaled back their commitments to supporting university operations (and thus shifting the onus of paying for education on to other system participants). After years of cuts, Ontario now invests fewer resources in education than does any other Canadian province.

Meanwhile, questions persist about the overall equity of access to university for all members of society. Non-financial barriers, which can just as effectively hinder the participation of some qualified individuals, can be as evident as physical structures that challenge the mobility of students with disabilities or as invisible as the failure to understand and account for the unique perspectives and community expectations of some social subgroups.

2.1 The Task Force

To confront these growing concerns about accessibility, the President struck this Task Force in October 2003 and charged it with the following mandate:

  • Conduct a critical review of information available—from Ontario, Canada, and other jurisdictions—on the impact that tuition policy, admissions policies and procedures, and various approaches to financial aid have on accessibility to higher education.
  • Study the models adopted in different jurisdictions with respect to the balance between tuition and financial aid and the balance between merit- and needs-based aid.
  • Review mechanisms to foster accessibility for traditionally disadvantaged groups, including aboriginal students and visible minorities, students with disabilities, students from low-income family settings, and students who are financially independent of family income.
  • Compare the total costs of attending the University of Guelph with those at other institutions in Ontario, and compare payment options and fee schedules, including refund strategies and differentiated tuition, as employed by other institutions.
  • Develop recommendations for possible implementation at Guelph to address the issues raised and to enhance accessibility, and construct benchmarks for assessing progress toward the overall goals of ensuring access to qualified prospective students.

2.1.1 Task Force Membership

The Task Force is composed of the following members of the University community:

  • Josh Alcock (Vice-Chair), Student member nominated from student members of the Board of Governors
  • Brad Dent, Student member nominated from GSA executive
  • David Hornsby, Student member nominated from CSA executive
  • Sally Humphries, Faculty member, Sociology and Anthropology
  • John Livernois, Faculty member, Department Chair, Economics
  • Maureen Mancuso (Chair), Provost and VP (Academic)
  • Brian Pettigrew, Registrar and Director of Strategic Enrolment Management
  • Brandon Reeve, Student member nominated from Interhall
  • Janet Wood, Faculty member, Microbiology

In addition, the following have served as key resources and provided the task force with vital research and analytical support:

  • Julia Beswick, Office of the Associate Vice-President (Academic)
  • Glenn Craney, Director, Resource Planning and Analysis
  • Fred Evers, Director, Educational Research and Development Unit
  • Ann Hollings, Office of Registrarial Services
  • Peter Landoni, Associate Registrar, Student Financial Services
  • Janet Mitchell, Educational Research and Development Unit
  • Kelly Parkinson, Office of Registrarial Services

2.2 Process

In February 2004, the Task Force issued an Interim Report that documented its initial activities. Subsequently, the Task Force created four working groups to delve more deeply into particular aspects of our mandate. To accomplish this, we consulted with staff, students and faculty; collected original data via surveys; listened to anecdotal stories of people's experiences; conducted a focus group with high school guidance counsellors; met with government officials and research experts; and continued to review external reports and documents as they were produced.

This final report brings together the efforts of those working groups and contains specific recommendations for improving accessibility—some applicable to Guelph specifically, others targeting the entire university system—for improving accessibility. These recommendations are not intended to be fully formed action plans—we are a Task Force not a legislative committee of the province or the University's governing body—but they represent firm, collegially developed conclusions, based on our analysis, about what ought to be done at various levels to correct or at least mitigate accessibility issues, to retard the worsening of existing problems and to forestall the development of new ones.

While we have attempted to approach accessibility from a broad range of perspectives, we have had to limit ourselves in certain respects to keep our review tractable. This report focuses primarily on accessibility to undergraduate education, although some attention is paid to the unique needs and issues of graduate students. We have also chosen to concentrate on the University's main Guelph campus. The regional campuses present a number of distinct challenges and issues that deserve attention, but these campuses are in the midst of an overall restructuring effort that complicates consistent assessment and analysis. Similarly, Guelph-Humber features a unique environment—one that diverges from and perhaps complements the main campus demographically—but it is also such a new administrative addition to the University that it was unclear whether a stable picture could be painted of specific accessibility issues at this point. Admittedly, the sheer logistical challenges of conducting a multi-campus review were also a factor—we had to pare down the scope of our review to a manageable size. We believe many of our observations and conclusions can still be applied throughout the University.

Since we issued our Interim Report, few major developments have occurred in the university arena. The tuition freeze remains in effect and was extended beyond the mandate of the government that introduced it; some further uncertainty was injected into the funding process by budget issues at Queen's Park; a few incremental modifications have been made to the OSAP financial aid program; and the federal government has continued to invest in research. But overall, the situation remains largely as we left it.

Perhaps the most significant event, at least in terms of its potential impact on the university system, is that change in government at Queen's Park led to the appointment of a blue-ribbon panel at the provincial level headed by former Premier Bob Rae to examine higher education issues, including many of those within our own mandate. We look forward to the opportunity to contribute our results to the consideration of the Rae Panel, and hope they are of use as part of a wider effort to restore and enhance the excellence and accessibility of Ontario's universities.

2.3 Structure of the Report

In the remainder of Part I, we discuss some of the high-level issues and questions that shape the debate over accessibility. With this theoretical framework in place, we proceed to Part II, which presents data and reports from the Task Force's working groups. Here the reader will find more detailed information about accessibility at the University of Guelph, as well as the larger context of the Ontario university system. Each report also contains specific recommendations for improvement of processes and procedures, or remedy of problems identified. In Part III, we synthesize the material gathered into a more targeted approach to addressing accessibility. Recommendations from individual reports are grouped and prioritized at the systemic and institutional levels. Finally, the report concludes with a comprehensive bibliography of resources consulted and of use in further examinations of accessibility.

3 Accessibility: A Discussion Framework

Any attempt to confront the notion of “accessibility” quickly leads to the realization that it is a complex and multi-faceted concept. We need to consider carefully and at a conceptual level what we mean by the term and how we address it as a Task Force, a university, and an academic community.

3.1 Accessibility vs. Participation

“Accessibility” is not simply a measure of participation in university education. When we speak of maximizing accessibility, we do not mean that we have a goal of driving the participation rate toward 100%. There are bounds to participation that are just and reasonable: not every member of society is expected to pursue advanced scholarship, and no university system is designed to feature unlimited intake capacity. The discrimination of the admissions process is an essential step in demarcating the subset of individuals who are both capable of completing university work and able to benefit from and contribute to the university experience. As an unabashedly intellectual institution, the university is fundamentally exclusionary to some degree. Despite our deep respect for and commitment to the forms and principles of democratic governance, the absolute arguments of pure, abstract democracy cannot be applied to discussions of university education without some modification.

The right to free speech is a universal and inherent, if not absolute, right. [1] Another right that Canadians have invested particular pride in universalizing is the right to health care. There is, in contrast, no inalienable and universal right to tertiary education; that right must be earned or deserved. Anyone may show up at a hospital and expect treatment. Universities serve their communities in many ways, but only some members can enrol in courses and programs or pursue degrees. What is perilous about this recognition of an “earned right” is that contingent rights—those that require qualification in this manner—are especially vulnerable to abridgement or denial. Who decides which individuals deserve an education?

We are not staking out some radical elitist vision here, only clarifying a tacit assumption about the limits to participation. Our goal cannot be 100% participation because that would radically transform the notion of what a university education is meant to be, and degrade its value as a means of maximizing the societal potential of individuals. Several countries have specified percentage goals for participation, often with significant increases in mind. Even this constrains the purpose of a university system by focusing on a conveniently measurable output rather than individual choice and social benefit through the fulfilment of individual potential.

Ultimately, only some citizens qualify for university education. And not everyone who qualifies should be obliged to attend university. There are other career and training options that individuals may choose. And as a practical matter, as a society we may not be well served by having every qualified citizen attend university, because there are careers necessary to the operation of society for which university is not the best form of preparation. However, as a just society, we wish to ensure that no qualified individual is denied the opportunity and benefits of a university education, should he or she desire to pursue it.

We take this as our fundamental axiom: that all qualified individuals should be able to attend university . We define accessibility as a measure of the barriers that prevent the participation of qualified potential students. Accessibility issues are focused on identifying, lowering and, ideally, eradicating barriers.

3.2 Dimensions of Accessibility

We have found it useful for discussion purposes to organize accessibility barriers and the issues surrounding them into three dimensions: economic, group, and assessment. Economic barriers have to do with imperfections in the way we finance education. University costs money; someone has to pay that cost, and not everyone can afford it. Inability to afford an education can and does exclude qualified students. We believe it should not.

Group barriers are those particular to different subgroups of the population. These barriers are diverse and often subtle in their effect. Visible minorities face societal and historical pressures that inhibit university attendance. Persons with disabilities may require accommodations. Some prospective students may have children of their own to care for, which places atypical demands on their ability to participate. Those who might represent the first generation of their family to consider attending university are too often not encouraged or supported in seeking admission—a barrier that is self-perpetuating. The gender gap is an especially complex barrier. Women are still significantly under-represented in disciplines like engineering and physical sciences, and in all fields at the doctoral level. But female undergraduate participation in general has burgeoned in the last few decades, to the point that there are now concerns about an inversion of this accessibility barrier, and a search for social factors that deter male applications and admissions.

Assessment barriers strike at the heart of what it means to be “qualified” for university, and thus reopen the very issue we emphasized above. Eligibility for university requires qualification: how can we be sure we are accurately distinguishing the qualified from the unqualified? Are we abandoning some individuals and denying them an education simply because they do not perform well on typical means of assessment? Are we capturing all of what it truly means to be “qualified”? Due consideration of qualification requires careful attention to any procedural or pedagogical barriers that might “hide” qualified minds from our admissions processes.

We use the word ‘dimensions' intentionally: these are not discrete categories, but rather overlapping axes of effect that in the real world are entangled in complex ways. The actual barriers that challenge particular individuals are a mix of types. For example, many of the barriers that disadvantage certain groups have an economic component: socio-economic inequities are both cause and effect of lack of adequate access to higher education.

3.3 Costs and Benefits

Every province in Canada has a publicly-funded university system. This represents a consensus on the idea that university education is deemed to have a significant benefit to society at large. By helping to educate its citizens, a society gains many advantages including higher overall economic growth, lower crime rates, better health, and more active and informed democratic governance. These public benefits can only proliferate and intensify as the knowledge-based economy expands. Of course, those who obtain the education also reap important personal benefits as well: a university degree is strongly correlated with higher income and other advantages. Indeed the very existence of this Task Force presumes that the personal, private benefits accruing to university graduates are perceived to be considerable. Accessibility is a salient issue precisely because everyone agrees that denial of access represents a significant detriment to an individual. Increasing demand for university places also indicates the high personal value placed on university degrees.

Inability to cover the direct costs of university is the primary economic accessibility barrier. Over time, the federal and provincial governments and universities themselves have evolved an increasingly intricate system of loans, grants, bursaries, offsets, work-study programs, scholarships and mitigations to try to remove this barrier. The matrix of financial aid schemes is discussed in detail in Section 4. For now, it is sufficient to observe that this matrix has never been able to meet its goals: some qualified individuals with limited financial resources continue to be excluded from university education. This ongoing failure in itself suggests that a radical new approach may be necessary.

One radical reform that is often proposed is the elimination of tuition altogether. The argument is that this would eliminate affordability as a factor in the decision to attend university or not. Section 5 examines this position more carefully and demonstrates that this simple, straightforward argument overlooks important and confounding details. First, because not everyone attends university, free tuition amounts to a tax-supported subsidy for students. Money spent to allow free tuition is public money not spent on other, more universal social programs such as health care. Worse, this student subsidy actually has an economically regressive effect: higher-income citizens receive a net benefit at the expense of lower-income citizens. This is surely the opposite of the policy's intent. Second, educational systems that have adopted zero tuition policies cannot demonstrate any significant increase in the participation of lower-income individuals—in other words, eliminating tuition does not appear to have the desired effect: the financial barrier persists.

Radical change has been proposed in the other direction as well. Proponents of a strict market-oriented approach to all possible social issues assert that “ownership” breeds responsibility, that subsidies are unjustifiable, and that making students personally responsible for the full cost of their educations will lead to more rational allocation of resources and more transparent choices. Moreover, since university graduates enjoy significantly higher average salaries, should we not expect them to pay the cost of conferring those advantages, especially when the cumulative increase in salary over a career dwarfs the actual tuition cost? This argument is, however, wilfully blind to the significant public benefits that flow to a society that educates its populace. Even the coldest economic calculations must admit that public contribution to university education is a “good investment” for a society to make.

Turning to cold political analysis, it is important to note that free tuition is certainly a powerful theme with political “traction”: it is a simple concept and it holds out the promise of significant benefit to certain demographic groups. Such measures are useful to governments and parties that need to improve support among young people and lower- to middle-income parents (and conversely, may not be as attractive in social environments where the population is “greying” rapidly). The counterintuitively regressive economic effect of free tuition requires a level of analysis not typically present in the popular political debate. This is not to say that free tuition is inherently a cynical ploy; most advocates are in fact idealistic and sincere in their support for what they believe to be a morally justified policy. We believe, however, that this idealism must be tempered with a willingness to recognize the impact of second-order side effects.

Still, any discussion of educational policy requires a good measure of idealism. As a society, we believe that everyone is entitled to and benefits from primary and secondary education. Our political system responds to this belief in a universal right to basic education not only by providing free education at these levels but also by actually requiring participation, at least to age 16. High school graduates enjoy personal benefits over non-graduates, but this does not translate into an argument that high school students should pay for their education because of the universality of secondary education. The benefits of state-supported primary and secondary education are available to all. [2] As we have observed above, however, university education is not a universal right. Any public subsidy of university costs is inherently asymmetrical, and asymmetrical subsidies are potential inequities. A “fair” level of tuition fees must take into account not only what students can afford to pay (and what is reasonable to expect them to pay) but also what is “fair” to that majority of society who will never participate in university education. That majority benefits to some extent from the achievements of graduates; the graduates themselves receive even more benefits.

Neither of these two extreme positions—zero tuition and 100% tuition—is ultimately justifiable. We believe a balance between personal and public contributions to the cost of university education is morally and economically appropriate. The question then becomes: where on the continuum from totally personal to totally public should that balance be located? Leaving this aside for now, we note that we are supporting the intent of the policy status quo but not its execution . Costs are currently shared—students pay a portion of the actual cost of their education, and the province contributes the remainder through operating grants—but the means we provide to help students manage their share are not adequate.

3.4 Beyond “Sticker Price”

In many ways, the focus on tuition levels hinders a more comprehensive approach to the problem of economic accessibility. Tuition is the “sticker price” of university—the advertised price, and usually the basis for most “comparison shopping” (both among universities in the same jurisdiction and among different university systems). But students pay more, often significantly more, than just tuition to attend university. There are additional fees, books, supplies, and living expenses to consider. For a residentially intensive university like ours, the latter can be especially significant and have a greater financial impact than nominal tuition. There is also an opportunity cost associated with spending several years in class instead of earning income.

Accurate and informed financial decisions require attention to the total costs of a transaction, whether they be the PST and GST on a retail purchase, or the room and board expenses for a year in off-campus accommodation. These total costs for university attendance are usually less quantified and more variable than tuition, and therefore more subject to over- or underestimation. They are not subject to direct control like the tuition cap recently imposed in Ontario, so they result in a greater amount of uncertainty and risk. And simply by their presence, they may push the cost of participation into the realm of the inaccessible. A student who can afford tuition at the University of Guelph, but cannot afford to live in Guelph, has run into an accessibility barrier no less daunting.

Worse, the variability of total costs can erect new barriers. Two prospective students of equally limited resources—one from Guelph, one from out of town—may be eligible for the same amount of tuition assistance. But the one who cannot save rent by living at home may find the cost of attendance too great to bear. In this way, the impact of total costs can mutate a purely economic barrier into a social (or at least geographical) effect. Considering total costs at every stage is an example of systemic thinking. We will attempt to emphasize the importance of this type of approach throughout the discussions that follow.

3.5 The Exceptional Nature of Guelph

Our University distinguishes itself from its fellow institutions in a number of ways, many of which are to our great advantage. One less positive comparison, however, is alluded to above (and documented in Section 5.2.1 ). Despite lower-than average tuitions, Guelph is a relatively expensive university, because of higher total costs. Much of this is due to our residential emphasis and location. We also have relatively high student fees (which pay for especially comprehensive student benefits—a policy choice made by our community). This report is intended to address accessibility in general, but also specific challenges and opportunities for Guelph. To that end, we must recognize the ways in which Guelph is exceptional, as they affect accessibility issues.

Other key characteristics of Guelph to consider include:

· The geographical distribution of the University across the regional campuses and Guelph-Humber. This further complicates the measurement of residence/commuting costs and makes it more difficult to aggregate student demographics and profiles. Different campuses attract different types of students, for different purposes. How widely do accessibility issues vary from campus to campus? As noted above, questions such as this are largely left to future inquiry.

  • Guelph is one of the few universities in Ontario to have resisted the trend toward significant fee differentiation. At other institutions, some programs are significantly more expensive to pursue than others. Often this reflects differences in the perceived future financial return of different degrees (it is not always clear whether this is a supporting argument for differentiation or a post-hoc rationalization for charging “what the market will bear”). Has Guelph's policy had the intended benefits? What, indeed, is that intent, and are the benefits equitably distributed? What have been and will be the costs of pursuing non-differentiation? And in the light of observations about the regressive potential of “flat” subsidies, is the policy still justified?
  • In recent years, Guelph has been a “rising star” and now counts itself among the top universities in Canada. We attract and retain more qualified students than many universities we formerly considered to be our peers or competitors. What, in 2004, does “qualified to attend” mean in the Guelph context, and how much narrower is the answer than it used to be? Are we assessing qualifications fairly? What should our targets in terms of academic performance be? Here again, notions of democratic egalitarianism do not mesh smoothly with the competitive imperatives of quality universities. Where is the balance to be found?

3.6 System vs. Institutional Responsibility

Finally, consideration of how Guelph is special reminds us that in many ways, Guelph is also typical of universities in Ontario, Canada, and even the world. We have idiosyncratic methods and problems, but we also face common accessibility challenges. More important, we operate as only one component and within the context of a much larger university system. We cannot resolve all accessibility issues ourselves, and, in some cases, can only serve as advocates for desired change.

Nor can we expect government to resolve all our issues for us. The coincidental timing of this Task Force and the Rae Panel on Post-Secondary Education is testament to the attention being paid to accessibility at both the systemic and institutional levels. Making progress will require changes, and thus recommendations, at both levels. The spheres of influence are distinct, but they overlap. For example, we must rely on the province to address the evident problems with OSAP, but we have total control over the administration of university bursaries. Both of these programs are elements of a financial aid strategy in which systemic and institutional efforts are commingled, if not truly “cooperative.”

As we consider specific accessibility issues, we will need to identify for each one where the “leverage” exists and where primary responsibility lies for lowering or removing barriers. We will also need to identify opportunities for co-operation and synergy, as well as a general sense of priority and severity.

4 Perceptions of Accessibility

Accessibility barriers are not simply matters of self-evident thresholds. The financial barrier of education cost is ultimately caused by the presence of a fixed “price” that a prospective student either can or cannot pay, but more important than the actual limit value—at least to understanding the impact of that barrier on personal decisions—is the murkier issue of perception. Different people perceive and measure the costs and benefits of university education in different ways and with varying degrees of accuracy (relative to empirically verifiable numbers). Perception is, if anything, even more crucial in assessing social and assessment barriers because there is no way to quantitatively measure how “welcoming” a community is toward visible minorities (demographic classification can only document the proportion of presence, not the underlying attitudes or impressions that affect decisions).

Unfortunately, perceptions are hard to investigate directly. A comprehensive and useful survey of prospective student attitudes was beyond the scope of this study, although we have made use throughout of existing data in this realm. The Task Force was able to pursue a more modest course of data gathering by convening a focus group of high school guidance counsellors to discuss accessibility. Since counsellors are closely involved with the decisions made by university-bound and university-considering students, we expect them to represent a useful source of aggregated perceptions of university in general and Guelph in particular.

Our initial plan was to work with counsellors from both local and out-of-town schools, especially districts in metropolitan Toronto. Unfortunately, the latter proved more difficult than expected, largely because of logistical issues. In a sense, Guelph is a victim here of its own entrenched admissions patterns: we draw relatively few students from the urban core—certainly far fewer than urban institutions like the University of Toronto or York University—and therefore counsellors in these areas perceive us as marginal to their constituency. [3] This is disappointing, because absorbing the perceptions of those counsellors would, in fact, help us to broaden our appeal in just those areas.

Nevertheless, on June 8, 2004, a focus group was held with high school guidance counsellors from two local school boards (Upper Grand District School Board and Wellington Catholic District School Board) to explore trends in accessibility. Participants said the media present false impressions that, when understood in conjunction with the colleges' marketing messages, discourage some qualified individuals from accessing university. The following statements from the focus group participants suggest that the public's perception of the costs and benefits of university matter:

  • “from the media, students are under the false impression that it costs less to go to college than university and that they are more likely to obtain a job with a college education than with a university education”
  • “college marketing perpetuates this impression”
  • “need to teach parents as well as kids that education is a means to an end, not an end … but it is marketed that way and they buy into an instrumental view of education.”

Of particular importance is the fact that the media's discussion of tuition, when understood in association with the colleges' message of affordable tuition and practical training, creates a constraint that guidance counsellors find difficult to overcome.

The high school guidance counsellors also indicated that there is an awareness among some of their students that university is out of reach for them both financially and socially. The following remarks reveal that financial concerns extend beyond the cost of tuition, books or living expenses:

  • “pressure at home by parents to make money and they self-select out”
  • “golden handcuffs"– they earn money for clothes, cars, and entertainment and find it more alluring than spending money on education.”

The fact that this segment of potential students experience intense pressure to make money often translates into a lack of desire to gather and process the information required to engage in the long-term planning necessary for a university education. In this respect, students are highly risk averse. They are apprehensive about investing money in post-secondary education when they are unaware or unsure of the benefits. In fact, the following observation made by the focus group suggests that a high school student's misgivings can be soothed or intensified by family and societal forces:

  • “without skill set or support at home, they will drop out of university”
  • “belief in themselves is key.”

It is important to note that families exert powerful forces on high school students. Some families pressure students to go to university when it is beyond their ability, while others impart a different message that compels a high school student to forgo a university education in favour of other pursuits that are more highly valued, such as becoming self-supporting or supporting the family. In this respect, families provide important cues to high school students in terms of how they see themselves and the value of a university education.

The following comments suggest that the final barrier to accessibility is assessment-oriented:

  • “they come to a decision that forecloses the opportunity for them to do something else – university and college courses pose a problem”
  • “can't do university math or English, so can't go to university”
  • “curriculum issues are real barriers for some groups; the literacy tests are toughest on ESL students.”

High school curriculum and university admissions policies represent assessment barriers to accessibility. For example, curriculum reform in Ontario has led to the addition of suffixes to designate high school courses as university-acceptable or college-acceptable courses. The end result has been that it often forces potential university students to make a decision regarding post-secondary education before they are ready to. Similarly, a student who performs badly in Grade 9 and 10 math or English, or who fails the literacy test, incorrectly assumes that he or she cannot succeed in university.

In the end, the remarks made of the focus group identify three groups of qualified high school students seen as having inadequate access to university. The first group is severely disadvantaged financially. In addition to financial obstacles, this group must overcome fear and belief systems that do not value post-secondary education, do not believe in their abilities or do not think that post-secondary education is attainable. The second set of potential university students consists of high school students who believe in themselves and have the support of their family. University, however, is unattainable for some of the “gap” students because they fall at the margins—in terms of both grades and finances. The final group of qualified high school students is visible minorities. Multiple variables work together, including language barriers and belief systems, to prevent some visible minorities from attending university.

5 Accessibility in Context

Before we can begin to investigate specific accessibility issues, it is important to establish a baseline of facts, figures, and trends. This section reviews and updates available data about access, participation and funding, and serves as a foundation for further discussion.

5.1 Participation Rates and Demographics

Participation rates provide an important tool to analyze trends in university enrolments. In comparing actual university enrolment with the size of the underlying population, participation rates provide a standard measure to make meaningful comparisons among jurisdictions and other groups of interest.

A review of provincial, national and international data on university participation rates has shown that participation rates have been increasing in all jurisdictions. In Ontario, the double cohort has attracted much attention, and shouldered much of the blame for increased university demand, but rising participation is really a broader long-term pattern, driven by underlying demographic trends as well as changes in workplace expectations and the continuing spread of a service economy. Figure 5 . 1 shows the increase in participation rates by province between 1998 and 2001.

Figure 5 . 1 : University Participation Rates

University Participation Rates

Source: Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada

Despite the large increases in Canadian post-secondary participation, Canada remains in the middle of the pack internationally. Over the last two decades, Canada has lost ground to a number of countries and currently ranks eighth behind the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand. [4] Figure 5 . 2 shows comparative data for 1998.

Figure 5 . 2 : International Participation Rates, 1998

International Participation Rates, 1998

5.1.1 Gender Differences in Participation

Perhaps the most striking feature of the data is the dramatic increase in female participation rates. Over the last two decades, female participation rates almost doubled while male participation rates grew more slowly and even began to decline towards the end of the 1990s. Currently, female participation rates are significantly higher than male participation rates, and female enrolments either equal or outnumber male enrolments. These data reveal that, despite females' earlier exclusion, their overall performance and participation in post-secondary education now outstrip those of males to a degree that has systematically increased during the last two decades. [5]

Data compiled at the local (University of Guelph), provincial, national and international level show this to be a world-wide trend. Figure 5 . 3 provides comparative data from selected OECD countries. This trend was of particular interest to some members of the Task Force (Evers, Livernois and Mancuso 2004).

Research has found higher financial rates of return (in terms of lifetime income) for women than for men (OECD, 2003; Jacob, 2002; Boothby and Rowe, 2002). This is largely because the opportunity costs of attending university are higher for men than for women. The evidence further suggests that this rate of return has been rising in recent decades. This goes part way towards explaining the rise in female participation rates and the lagging male participation rates.

Figure 5 . 3 : Change in Female Participation Rates 1990 to 2000, Selected OECD Countries

Change in Female Participation Rates 1990 to 2000, Selected OECD Countries

Source: Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

Differences between men and women in “non-cognitive skills” [6] have also been shown to affect university participation (Sommers, 2000, 2001; Jacob, 2002; Poe, 2004). While there is no evidence to suggest that one gender is inherently more or less academically able in cognitive terms, [7] school-age girls are better than boys at paying attention, working with others, managing their time, and organizing their schoolwork. This difference in non-cognitive performance directly affects early academic success, and thus, eventually, qualification for university. Jacob (2002) finds that over 90% of the gender gap that exists in the U.S. can be explained by two factors alone: the combination of a higher return to education for females and the higher non-cognitive skills for females.

In addition, the impact of the feminist revolution on the perceived opportunities for women during the ‘70s and ‘80s would further reinforce this phenomenon. Women, who in the 1960s had never contemplated a career, could do so by the 1970s. In other words, culture and the shift in power relations between men and women played a role beyond economics in the demand for spaces in universities by women.

5.1.2 Differences in Participation between Socio-Economic Groups

It has been well-documented that participation rates are higher in households with higher income. While there has been evidence that participation rates for the lowest income groups has been rising over time, a significant gap still exists. Figure 5 . 4 shows the trend in participation by household income over time.

Figure 5 . 4 : Participation Rates by Income Quartile

Participation Rates by Income Quartile

Source: Corak, Lipps and Zhao (2003)

This topic has generated some interesting research. Christofides, Cirello and Hoy (2001) provide the most thorough econometric analysis to date of the impact of socio-economic variables on the pattern of post-secondary attendance in Canada. Their study found that the gap between the participation rates for the highest and lowest income quintiles decreased from 1975 to 1993 substantially. In addition, they found that parents' income and education levels and distance to a post-secondary institution were also significant determining factors.

A more recent paper by Corak, Lipps and Zhao (2003) extended this analysis to 1997 to show that the gap in participation rates between the highest and lowest income groups continued to decrease. In fact, a new result that emerged in this period is that the participation rates of the middle-income groups appeared to decline towards the end of the 1990s. The authors speculated that this may have been due to the fact that the loan amounts and means-testing requirements for federal and provincial student loans had been frozen since 1994, making loans unavailable for an increasing segment of the middle-income families.

Another paper by Frenette (2002) reinforced this idea by examining the correlation between differences in university participation rates by household income with proximity to a university campus. The study found that students from the top third of income groups are six times more likely to attend than students from the bottom third if they do not live within commuting distance to a university. Students from the bottom third of households are 4.4 times more likely to attend if living within commuting distance. The paper also found a higher differential impact for female students and a tendency for low-income households to switch from university to college if a college was within commuting distance from home.

A third paper by Mata (1997) demonstrated the complexities in making direct comparisons between university participation rates and family income. The paper found that children born to highly educated parents are more likely to pursue post-secondary education, that people of similar education tend to marry, that the effect of father's education matters most and that all of this is highly related to economic status.

The most recent paper we have examined is by Coelli (2004), who found statistically significant effects of higher tuition fees on the probability of participation for lower-income students. In addition, the Task Force has been unable to obtain recent data (from 1999 to present) from Statistics Canada to determine whether participation rates for low-income students have continued to be non-declining. Ultimately the evidence is rather inconclusive—it does not clearly show that higher tuition fees in Canada have presented a barrier to participation, but also has not conclusively shown that there is no effect.

5.2 Funding of Education

It will not come as a surprise to anyone that the costs of education have risen dramatically over the last decade. This has been the result of recent government policy that has looked to “rebalance” the mix of operating grants and tuition fee revenue at Ontario universities. The end result has seen large decreases in operating grants and large increases in tuition fee rates.

Between 1992 and 1999, the University of Guelph experienced a 20% cut to operating grants [8] . Since 1999, we have seen a reinvestment in operating grants, but all reinvestments have been tied to increases in university enrolments. Operating grants per FTE student remain almost 20% below 1992 levels. Figure 5 . 5 shows the change in operating grants and operating grants per FTE student relative to 1992.

Figure 5 . 5 : Changes to University of Guelph Operating Grants 1992 to 2003

Changes to U of G Operating Grants 1992 - 2003

Source: Institutional Analysis and Planning, University of Guelph

At the same time, the government allowed universities to increase tuition rates to offset the decreased operating grant funding. This was only a partial solution, as tuition fees have never come close to fully offsetting the costs of each student's education; the majority of that cost is covered by direct public subsidy through operating funding. Still, as a result of this policy, tuition fees have increased by over 150 per cent since 1992. (The tuition for a B.A. or B.Sc. student at the University of Guelph in 1992 was $1,894 for two semesters, compared with $4,184 in 2003.)

Figure 5 . 6 : Changes to Tuition Fee Rates 1992 to 2003

Changes to Tuition Fee Rates 1992 to 2003

Source: Council of Ontario Financial Officers – Universities of Ontario

This has effectively rebalanced the mix of tuition fees and operating grant revenue at Ontario universities. While the Government's stated goal was to have students pay for 35% of the costs of education, the system as a whole has surpassed this figure. Guelph has historically received a lower-than-average proportion of revenue from tuition. The gap between the Guelph average and the rest of the Ontario system continues to rise.

Figure 5 . 7 : Tuition as a Share of Operating Revenue 1992 to 2003

Tuition as a Share of Operating Revenue 1992 to 2003

Source: Council of Ontario Financial Offices – Universities of Ontario

Despite large increases in tuition fees at all universities, fees at the University of Guelph remain relatively low in comparison. Recent data provided by Statistics Canada show that the average fee at the University of Guelph is significantly lower than the Ontario average and only slightly higher than the Canadian average. This is largely due to Guelph's decision not to deregulate any tuition fees on campus (see below). Table 5 . 1 shows average undergraduate tuition fees across Canada.

Table 5 . 1 : Average Undergraduate Tuition Fees, 2004-05

Nova Scotia 5,984
Ontario 4,960
Saskatchewan 4,894
Alberta 4,804
British Columbia 4,735
New Brunswick 4,719
Prince Edward Island 4,374
University of Guelph 4,192
Canada 4,172
Manitoba 3,160
Newfoundland and Labrador 2,606
Quebec 1,890

Source: Statistics Canada (2004)

Tuition is only one part of the fees charged to students. The full package of fees includes ancillary fees levied by both the University and student government. Guelph's ancillary fees in some cases contribute to higher overall rates. In particular, the student government fees are relatively higher at Guelph compared to most other universities. These fees, however, are set by the students, and are generally considered to provide for more extensive services at Guelph (such as the bus pass and dental plan). It is a common misconception that the University of Guelph has higher tuition fees than many of our major competitors. This is because students confront only the combined price of tuition and ancillary fees. As the following tables show, this misconception is unfounded. [9]

Table 5 . 2 : Domestic Arts and Science Undergraduate Fees

University Tuition Fee Rank % Instit. Fee Student Fees Total Fees Rank %
Guelph $4,184 9 $277 $492 $4,952 14
McMaster $4,133 3 -1.2% $275 $405 $4,813 12 -2.8%
Ottawa $4,163 7 -0.5% $233 $165 $4,562 2 -7.9%
Queen's $4,193 17 0.2% $159 $579 $4,932 13 -0.4%
Toronto $4,185 16 0.0% $501 $285 $4,970 18 0.4%
Waterloo $4,194 18 0.2% $214 $225 $4,633 5 -6.4%
Western $4,140 4 -1.1% $332 $495 $4,967 16 0.3%

Source: Council of Ontario Universities

Table 5 . 3 : Domestic Graduate Fees

University Tuition Fee Rank % Instit. Fee Student Fees Total Fees Rank %
Guelph $5,160 9 $404 $556 $6,120 13
McMaster $4,422 2 -14.3% $112 $328 $4,862 2 -20.6%
Ottawa $5,280 11 2.3% $217 $476 $5,973 9 -2.4%
Queen's $5,159 8 0.0% $138 $611 $5,909 8 -3.5%
Toronto $5,442 14 5.5% $501 $205 $6,148 14 0.4%
Waterloo $5,448 15 5.6% $254 $161 $5,863 7 -4.2%
Western $5,095 6 -1.3% $339 $558 $5,992 11 -2.1%

Source: Council of Ontario Universities

Table 5 . 4 : International Arts and Science Undergraduate Fees

University Tuition Fee Rank % Instit. Fee Student Fees Total Fees Rank %
Guelph $9,356 3 $277 $492 $10,124 4
McMaster $12,450 17 33.1% $275 $405 $13,130 17 29.7%
Ottawa $11,500 13 22.9% $234 $165 $11,899 12 17.5%
Queen's $13,980 18 49.4% $159 $579 $14,719 18 45.4%
Toronto $10,739 10 14.8% $501 $285 $11,525 10 13.8%
Waterloo $15,326 19 63.8% $214 $226 $15,766 19 55.7%
Western $11,750 15 25.6% $332 $495 $12,577 15 24.2%

Source: Council of Ontario Universities

Table 5 . 5 : International Graduate Fees

University Tuition Fee Rank % Instit. Fee Student Fees Total Fees Rank %
Guelph $8,148 1 $404 $556 $9,108 2
McMaster $12,045 12 47.8% $112 $328 $12,485 10 37.1%
Ottawa $12,300 15 51.0% $217 $476 $12,993 15 42.7%
Queen's $10,600 7 30.1% $138 $611 $11,350 7 24.6%
Toronto $9,242 4 13.4% $501 $205 $9,948 5 9.2%
Waterloo $13,770 16 69.0% $254 $161 $14,185 16 55.7%
Western $11,000 8 35.0% $339 $558 $11,897 8 30.6%

Source: Council of Ontario Universities

5.2.1 Total Costs

Consideration of ancillary fees in addition to tuition is important, but it still does not provide an accurate basis for comparing the costs of universities—against one another or some ideal cost profile. A full accounting would also include books, accommodation and food, as well as other personal expenditures.

This is by no means a trivial correction. Many make the assumption that tuition and fees are the primary expenses of participating in post-secondary education. This is unjustified and seriously misleading. Recent surveys (Telford, Cartwright, Prasil and Shimmons, 2003) show that educational expenses – tuition fees, ancillary fees and books – represent only about 45% of total direct expenses [10] . The costs of living away from home, such as renting an apartment or living in residence, paying for utilities and food, can increase the costs of attending university by as much as 50%. Table 5 . 6 compares the total costs of attending university for students that live at home and students that live away from home.

Table 5 . 6 : Total Costs of Attending University

Direct Educational Expenditures
Living at Home Living away from Home Average
Tuition, Fees & Books $5,000 $5,000 $5,000
Accommodation & Food $1,800 $6,000 $4,200
Other Expenses $2,000 $2,000 $2,000
Total Expenses $8,800 $13,000 $11,200

Source: Access, Persistence and Financing, First Results from the Postsecondary Education Persistence Survey, Statistics Canada 2003

This is of particular importance for residentially intensive universities such as Guelph. Nationally, over 60% of students live at home while attending post-secondary education. [11] By comparison, fewer than 10 per cent of students at the University of Guelph lived with a parent or other family member. [12] No university, other than perhaps Queen's University, is as residentially intensive.

The vast majority of students who choose to attend the University of Guelph face significantly higher costs than do students who attend schools closer to home. The University has been deliberate in its attempts to mitigate these higher costs. In part, this has contributed to our motivation to hold actual tuition fees down well below the Ontario average ( Table 5 . 1 ). This represents an attempt to compensate for inevitably higher-than-average non-fee expenses. Our residence rates are also highly competitive.

However, our residential nature remains an issue for accessibility. We know that a high proportion of students who choose to attend Guelph come from affluent families. Estimated family incomes of University of Guelph students are in the top third among Ontario universities [13] . Moreover, a recent study found that students from the high-income groups are six times more likely to participate in post-secondary education if they do not live within commuting distance to a university. [14]

It is a strategic direction of the University to remain a medium-sized, residentially intensive university. It is important to understand the impacts of such fundamental decisions about institutional identity, even if, as in this case, it is difficult to imagine a change of direction.

5.2.2 Fee Differentiation

Another area in which the University's strategic choices have affected its cost structure is fee deregulation. As part of its effort to rebalance the costs of post-secondary education, the government allowed universities to deregulate fees for graduate programs, professional programs (e.g. veterinary medicine, business), and computer science and engineering programs. The University of Guelph has, as a community, historically chosen not to exploit this deregulation, in part in the hope that we will be able to attract qualified individuals with limited means who are excluded from programs elsewhere due to deregulated fee increases. Guelph is, in fact, the only research-intensive university not to differentiate any fees. [15]

Table 5 . 7 : Deregulated Fees, 2003

PROGRAM McMaster Queen's Toronto Waterloo Western
Business $4,526 $9,583 $8,400 $4,194 $18,000
Computer Science $4,133 $6,760 $7,350 $6,402 $4,140
Dentistry - - $17,950 - $17,100
Medicine $14,445 $13,500 $16,207 - $14,566
Law - $8,961 $16,000 - $9,750

Source: Council of Ontario Universities

But this choice has had a high cost in terms of forgone revenue to Guelph. As Table 5 . 7 indicates, deregulated programs can and do generate significant amounts of operating revenue for their host institutions. Here at Guelph, in 2003, about 20 per cent of our undergraduate student body was enrolled in deregulated programs eligible for fee differentiation. Charging those students only the standard fee reduces the amount of money available proportionally for other purposes.

5.3 Student Debt

The issue of student debt levels generates possibly the greatest degree of interest from students, their parents and government, as well as faculty and university administrators. Further complicating the issue is a false but oft-repeated perception that the average student debt level is $25,000 and growing. This figure was based on a 1996 Government of Canada publication that ignored provincial loan remission programs, and it fails to acknowledge that about half of all graduating students are debt-free.

The Task Force recognized that the existing data on student debt were conflicting and fragmented, so it set out to gather some more reliable and locally relevant information. [16] During the months of March and April 2004, the Task Force asked about 4,000 graduating Guelph students about the types and amount of their student debt. [17] To put the Guelph data into context, we compared it with results from the three most commonly cited sources: National Graduate Survey (three cohorts: 1986, 1990, 1995); Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium: Graduating Students Survey 2000; and Lang Research Survey (CMSF, 2001)

5.3.1 Government Debt

The vast majority of work in the area of student debt has focused on government debt (i.e. OSAP & CSLP). Nationally, research has shown that about 60% of students graduate with some government debt. In Ontario, this figure falls to about 50%. [18] However, the results of the Task Force survey show that only 40% of Guelph's graduating class of 2004 graduated with government debt.

While incidence and total levels of debt vary greatly program of by study, the average level of government debt, for those 40% of University of Guelph graduates with some government debt is $16,700. This amount is much less than the accepted Ontario average of $21,500. At all levels, University of Guelph graduates have less government debt then other postsecondary students. Figures 4.8 and 4.9 compare the results of the University of Guelph survey to estimates of the national average.

Figure 5 . 8 : Government Debt Levels—Guelph vs. Canadian average

Government Debt Levels - Guelph vs. Canadian average

Source: Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium: Graduating Students Survey 2000

Figure 5 . 9 : Government Debt Upon Graduation—Guelph vs. Canadian average

Government Debt Upon Graduation - Guelph vs. Canadian average

Source: Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium: Graduating Students Survey 2000

This is indeed a remarkable result. The expectation of the Task Force was that University of Guelph graduates would exhibit a higher incidence of government debt than the national average. As was shown in section 4.2.1, the total costs of attending the University of Guelph are higher than the national average and it is reasonable to expect that student debt levels vary in correlation with total costs.

At the same time, however, we also know that the families of our students have one of the highest family incomes in Ontario. [19] This coupled with changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program over the last decade, may be excluding our students from government programs. Anecdotal evidence has shown this to be the case. In 2003, the Central Students Association documented that there is a growing number of Guelph students that have real need but are ineligible for OSAP. This has led to the introduction of a “Guelph Assistance Program” or GAP to address the needs of middle class students who do not qualify for government programs.

5.3.2 Private Debt

It is widely believed that students are increasingly turning to other sources of funding to finance their education The University of Guelph survey asked graduates to provide information on other types of private debt, such as that owed to family, financial institutions and other sources. This data provides an important advancement in the research, as the Task Force could find no studies that focused on the total amount of debt owed at graduation [20] .

As expected, we found that Guelph students look to a variety of sources to pay for post-secondary education. While it is still the case that about one third of students graduate with no debt whatsoever, the average amount of total debt incurred can be substantial. When private debt is added to government debt, the average debt level of Guelph graduates increases to about $23,500.

The single largest source of financing was government debt. However, debt to family ran a close second at 34%, with formal loans at 27%. Table 4.8 shows the incidence and average level of student debt upon graduation, by instrument.

Table 5 . 8 : Incidence and Average Amount of Debt by Instrument

Source Incidence Average
Government Debt 41% $16,781
Financial Institution 27% $14,850
Family Debt/Loan 34% $13,949
Other 3% $9,428
Total 67% $23,542

Source: University of Guelph Survey, 2004

A deeper look at these data shows that, as expected, there is a negative correlation between government debt and other sources of financing. In other words, as the amount of government debt declines, debt to family and financial institutions rises. One possible interpretation is that the credit restrictions found in the market for government debt are forcing Guelph students to turn elsewhere. While there are no direct comparisons of total debt at other institutions, it is logical to assume that it would be substantially more than the amount of $21.500 in government debt. In this light, a total private debt of $23,500 for Guelph students looks reasonable. The Task Force hopes that more comprehensive work will be done to provide comparative data for the Canadian and Ontario system as a whole.

5.3.3 Repayment

Given that some level of debt is not uncommon, an important question is whether or not students are having increasing difficulty repaying their debt. This question is a primary focus of concern about accessibility as it addresses the extent to which debt and debt aversion form a barrier to access.

Finnie (2001) concludes that debt repayment is highly correlated with graduation and employment rates. As university graduation rates and employment rates of university graduates are quite high, Finnie concludes that post-secondary education is a “good investment” and that debt levels are still manageable. Tables 3.5-3.7 provide information for Guelph and the larger system on graduation rates, employment rates, OSAP default rates and difficulty of student loan repayment.

Table 5 . 9 : Graduation and Employment Rates, 2002

Graduation Rate Employment Rate
Guelph 81.9% 97.8%
Provincial Average 73.0% 96.6%

Source: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

Table 5 . 10 : OSAP Default Rates

Institution 2002 2001 2000
Guelph 4.5% 5.5% 4.5%
Universities 7.5% 7.4% 7.1%
Colleges 16.0% 17.5% 17.2%
Career College 24.2% 26.7% 28.9%
ALL PSE 13.9% 15.4% 15.8%

Source: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

Table 5 . 11 : Percent of Canadian Graduates Reporting Debt Repayment Difficulty
(percent of graduates with debt)

Degree Gender 1990 1995
Baccalaureate Male 21% 29%
Female 25% 32%
Magisteriate Male 21% 28%
Female 24% 33%
Doctoral Male 17% 21%
Female 24% 23%

Source: Finnie (2001)

5.4 Recent Critiques of the Canadian and Ontario Financial Aid Systems

The Task Force reviewed four recent reports that have been critical of the current financial aid system: the COU Task Force on Student Assistance (2001), Portals and Pathways: Investing in Students Task Force (2000), the report of the University of Toronto Student-Administration Joint Working Group on OSAP Reform (2003) and Finnie (2002). All four reports conclude that the current system is inefficient, unduly restrictive, and overly complex and does not provide an adequate amount of funding for students in need. There is clear consensus that OSAP and the Canada Student Loans (CSL) program are failing to achieve their basic goals and are in need of significant reform.

Collectively, the reports recommend that the system has to become more flexible with a much more realistic needs-assessment that expands the eligibility criteria to improve access and increase borrowing limits to students who need it. They also call for loan assistance (debt remission and interest relief) to be expanded.

In the recent Throne Speech, Prime Minister Martin indicated a willingness to address needed changes in the CSL program. It is not yet clear what and how extensive these reforms might be. However, there is a clear opportunity for Guelph, in partnership with other universities and COU and AUCC, to make our concerns heard. The new Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Mary Anne Chambers, has issued a similar call for reform and revealed at least an apparent willingness to confront the mounting issues at the provincial level.


Part II:
Confronting Accessibility Barriers

The sections in Part II represent reports presented by the various working groups of the Task Force. Section 6 examines the financial aid mechanisms provided by the province and the University, assesses their effectiveness and offers numerous recommendations for incremental improvement. Section 7 addresses the more fundamental problem of the model by which we fund education in Ontario and provides a recommendation for thorough redesign of the system to eliminate key barriers. Social barriers to accessibility, in the context of several different groups, are the subject of Section 8 . Finally, Section 8.5 discusses some aspects of the problem of recognizing and assessing “quality” in students, and fostering not only the ability to attend university but also the interest and desire to do so.

6 Student Debt and Financial Assistance

The importance of financial aid and student debt has increased over the last two decades as provincial governments have shifted more of the cost of post-secondary education to individual students and their families. Efforts to maintain accessibility to post secondary education have forced the many providers of financial aid to expand and add on to existing programs.

Traditionally, these programs provide access to needs-based loans and bursaries, merit-based scholarships and work-study opportunities. While the evidence suggests that these changes to financial aid have helped those from the lowest socio-economic groups, there still exist significant barriers to funding students from this group. [21] Moreover, the absence of a grants program continues to provide a disincentive to participation.

6.1 OSAP

The Ontario Student Assistance Program offers full-time and part-time student loans based on calculated need. Parental income and estimated personal income are key determining factors in the assessment of financial need and of the amount of the loan.

OSAP has been widely criticized for having overly stringent income criteria that exclude many students from middle-income households on the basis of family income. Moreover, it is often difficult for these families to provide the assumed parental contribution due to other circumstances like mortgages and multiple child support. The assumption that families are willing to support the student as a dependent is not always viable. Simply put, OSAP's current assumed parental contribution levels do not reflect financial realities faced by most middle-class families.

OSAP's maximum loan amount per year is based on the length of school term and number of courses taken. At Guelph the maximum loan for a two-semester academic year is $9,075 for a single dependent full-time student. [22] These maximums were set in the mid-1990s and no longer cover the full costs of attending university as they have not been adjusted for inflation. Ekos Research Associates (2003) highlighted the gap between OSAP maximum levels and the actual cost of attending post-secondary institutions, finding that the average cost for one full-time dependent student to attend university in Canada was $11,200; at the University of Guelph it was $12,668. [23]

The child-care allowance for OSAP recipients has also proven to be inadequate. Child-care costs are estimated to range from $40 to $80 per week, depending on marital status. Again, this amount has not been adjusted for over a decade and does not reflect the real costs of child care.

Part-time students apply for assistance through the Part-Time Canada Student Loan Program/Special Opportunity Grant Program. The maximum grant per year is only $1,200, with a lifetime limit for loans of only $4,000. Unlike the student assistance provided to full-time students, interest on these loans begins 30 days after the start of the loan, and interest relief is not provided if the student returns to full-time studies. These restrictive loan limits and lack of interest payment relief provide a strong disincentive for students who require financial aid to remain in the system. While the Ontario Special Bursary Program exists for part-time students, the income criteria are difficult to meet and the annual maximum of $2,500 is extremely restrictive.

Full-time students on OSAP risk losing their funding if they reduce their course load. After a second occurrence, the student must then repay the overpayment to be considered for any future funding. This rule assumes that full-time students who drop courses do so for no particular reason and therefore do not need the funding. This would be true if OSAP was used only for tuition, but these loans are required to cover living expenses.

OSAP provides interest relief while students are attending a post-secondary institution. Once they have completed their program, interest charges start immediately but students have a six-month grace period before loan repayments begin. While employment rates for university graduates are in excess of 90%, graduates who have difficulty finding employment or who find employment at relatively low starting salaries often have difficulty meeting their repayment obligation.

6.2 CSL

The Canada Student Loans program operates in conjunction with OSAP and is based on similar selection criteria and rules. The terms of agreement between the federal and provincial governments are co-ordinated by the Canada-Ontario Integrated Loan Program. Recently, the federal government decided to increase loan limits to address cost-of-living increases that were adversely affecting accessibility to post-secondary education. However, this increase in available funding is universal and not tiered based on the cost of living in a particular area. For example, the cost of attending a post-secondary institution in the Greater Toronto Area is considerably higher it is than in northern Ontario.

In an effort to reduce student debt after graduation, both CSL and OSAP offer back-end loan forgiveness in the form of Ontario Student Opportunity grants for any amount borrowed over $7,000 in an academic year. This translates into approximately $2,000 in savings for single dependents and $9,500 for married or sole-support parents at the maximum level of assistance. However, this program is not effectively communicated to students and therefore is not as effective as it could be in promoting accessibility. Providing front-end grants instead of back-end loan forgiveness programs could increase participation by lower- and middle-income groups.

The Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation could work with the provinces and operate as a front-end grants agency in this regard without a structural change to the foundation or its mandate. In 2000, its inaugural year, the foundation distributed 90,000 bursaries to Canada's most needy full-time students. [24] Part-time students are not eligible for a Millennium Bursary. However, just as this new agency began to distribute additional funding, the Ontario provincial government proportionally decreased the amount of needs-based grants. At a minimum, the Ontario government should restore needs-based grants to levels obtaining before establishment of the Millennium Foundation.

6.3 University of Guelph

6.3.1 Student Financial Services

Student Financial Services (SFS) administers financial aid at the University of Guelph. The unit's services include: administering the awards program for both merit- and needs-based awards, a work-study program, and the administration of CSL and OSAP. SFS offers financial counselling to students who have encountered problems and need assistance in developing budgets and/or securing bursaries or scholarships.

SFS has seen a tremendous increase in workload as a direct result of the increase in needs-based awards that include tuition reinvestment [25] and the implementation of the Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund. [26] Current workloads do not allow for the expansion of existing services, such as more comprehensive debt counselling service, education and promotion of programs offered, exit counselling, and online interactive processes that will allow students to search for awards that fit their profile and apply for these awards online.

6.3.2 Merit- and Needs-based Aid at Guelph

The University of Guelph has a number of merit- and needs-based programs to assist in-course students over and above government sources. Institutional merit- and needs-based undergraduate aid for 2003-2004 totalled 5,800 awards worth $11.3 million . Merit-based aid is traditionally given out in the form of a one-time commitment, but there are some multi-year awards such as the President's and Chancellor Scholarships. Needs-based aid totalled over $6 million and was given out in accordance with OSAP-defined criteria. Because these criteria are insufficiently flexible, however, needs-based aid is considered on a case-by-case basis with over 4,000 bursaries being distributed last year. Needs-based awards can include work study, undergraduate research assistantships, food vouchers and one-time bursaries.

The balance between need and merit-based awards at Guelph is roughly even, with slightly more merit-based awards given out in 2003-2004. Anecdotal evidence suggests that needs-based aid is not sufficient at its current levels. SFS should track demand for needs-based awards to determine if the current levels offered are adequate, and should consider other models for handing out needs-based aid, such as the University of Toronto model that delivers aid at varying amounts based on level of need.

To address the need for financial aid among students who come from a middle-income background and did not qualify for OSAP, the University, in conjunction with the Central Student Association, developed a needs-based bursary. In 2002-2003, 35 students received this funding for a total of $29,250. Given the participation of the middle-income group, the GAP bursary should be expanded and offered in multi-year instalments.

Graduate students receive financial aid through public and/or private grants and teaching assistantships. However, as a means of increasing accessibility and attracting quality Ph.D. students, the University has implemented a new minimum graduate stipend of $17,500. The stipend will include monies raised through graduate assistantships, grants and work opportunities.

While the University of Guelph does offer financial assistance through awards and bursaries for students with children, it has been shown to be insufficient for a large number of students.

6.4 Private Loans and Bursaries

Privately sourced debt is significant. Ekos reports that 22% of students have a private loan with an average value for all years of study of $7,500 at the beginning of the school year. StatsCan reports that 8% of year 2000 graduates have only private loans with an average value of $9,500. Another 11% have both private and government loans with an average value of $32,000 [27] . Ekos also reports that 37% of students have credit card debt with an average value of $1,500 at the start of the academic year. [28] These findings were supported by the 2004 University of Guelph graduating student debt survey (see Section 5.3 ).

Students have limited options when seeking loans outside of government sources. While financial institutions do provide student loans for full-time and part-time undergraduate and graduate students in the form of a line of credit, the methods and criteria for obtaining these may present problems for some students. Either sufficient collateral or a co-signer is necessary to obtain a loan. Most students lack the necessary collateral and therefore must have a co-signer. For students whose parents or guardians have chosen not to support them financially (and thus need a loan), this may be difficult to achieve.

Unlike the government-sponsored loan programs, the bank line of credit requires a monthly interest payment. However, principal payments are typically only necessary 12 months after the student has completed studies. Like the government loan programs, the private loan option can affect credit ratings either positively or negatively. It is not clear how payback rates differ for public and private loans, but ongoing interest charges make private loans more expensive to carry and therefore more burdensome, dollar for dollar.

The increased role of private sources for loan and bursaries, as shown in the Ekos survey, highlights the fact that governments at both the federal and provincial levels are providing insufficient financial resources to students. In particular, all students who work are more likely to borrow from the private sector than from the government.

6.5 Work Programs

The University of Guelph has seven work programs that are available to undergraduate and graduate students. Individual students may participate in more than one of these programs at any given time. These include the Undergraduate Research Assistantships (URA), which supports over 130 students in financial need and distribute over $700,000 annually; the University of Guelph work-study program, run in conjunction with the provincial government, which supports over 150 students for a total of about $225,000 annually; and the provincial work-study program, which supports almost 400 students for a total of about $250,000 annually. Both the provincial and University work-study programs are tied to OSAP eligibility, which, as we have already observed, negatively affects students in the middle income ranges. However, the University has adjustments its plan to ease the expected parental contribution and so allow more students to qualify.

6.6 Recommendations

Strategic/Systemic Recommendations:

1. There is clearly a gap between funding available and funding needed. The provincial government should restore funding to levels that cover the actual costs of education. Both levels of government ought to develop a principled approach to post-secondary education that transparently establishes a rationale for the relative apportionment of student aid in the form of loans versus grants.

2. Providing front-end grants instead of back-end loan forgiveness could be a means of increasing lower- and middle-income group participation. The Canadian Millennium Foundation could work with the provinces and operate as a front-end grants agency.

3. A review of needs-based scholarship funding should be undertaken. At a minimum, the Ontario government should restore needs-based grants to their levels prior to the establishment of the Millennium Foundation.

Recommendations for OSAP:

4. OSAP's assumed parental contribution levels need to be reviewed and revised to reflect financial realities. Better assessment criteria that more accurately account for variation in family finances are also necessary. The current method of determining parent-child relationships is onerous.

5. The interface between social assistance and OSAP needs to be reviewed and harmonized so that students with children can afford to attend university.

6. Many students use OSAP to cover costs of living. OSAP criteria need more flexibility to account for medical, psychological, and compassionate circumstances, as well as accurately reflect differences in the cost of living.

7. Both the provincial and University work study programs are tied to OSAP eligibility. The University's efforts to relax these requirements are a step in the right direction, which needs to be reflected provincially, so that middle income students who do not qualify for OSAP can still access required aid.

8. The role of collection agencies in the OSAP and CSL programs needs to be examined. Information on what percentage of loans gets turned over and when could be useful in examining default rates and assist in the comprehensive discussion on student debt suggested previously.

9. OSAP should consider extending the six-month grace period on charging interest to twelve months, in order to more realistically reflect hiring patterns and graduation dates.

Recommendations for the University of Guelph:

10. The University should create financial incentives in the form of scholarships and bursaries to encourage attendance from first generation university students.

11. The University should implement needs-based bursaries for residence as a means to diversify the current demographic and to provide an incentive for attendance.

12. Provide SFS the financial resources to undertake initiatives such as: more comprehensive debt counselling service, education and promotion of the programs that are in existence, exit counselling, and online interactive processes that will allow students to search for awards that fit their profile and apply for these awards on-line, would improve the speed and efficiency of service delivery.

Part-Time Students:

13. Interest payment relief, increased loan limits, and increased access to grants need to occur to ensure part time students are not disadvantaged.

14. As not all students can study full time or are supported by a parent/guardian, a review of funding for part-time students should be undertaken and a new program developed that is flexible and better serves their needs.

15. Part time students could apply using the regular OSAP program but prorate costs based on course load and the personal financial situation.

7 Tuition Fees and Funding Mechanisms

There are many different opinions about the appropriate level of tuition fees for post-secondary education in Canada. There are some who advocate for zero tuition fees. They argue that government should cover the full cost of post-secondary education so that it will be accessible to all rather than only to those who can afford it. At the other end of the spectrum are those who advocate that tuition should cover the full cost of post-secondary education. This group argues that the graduates of post-secondary education enjoy substantial lifetime financial and non-financial benefits compared with non-graduates, and should thus be expected to pay the full cost of their education.

The Task Force undertook a detailed analysis of both these options and rejected both in favour of a model that involves a reasonable degree of sharing of the cost between taxpayers and the student. This chapter provides a brief summary of the Task Force's analysis of these two extreme models of tuition fees and provides a framework to address two important questions. What is the appropriate level for tuition fees? And what are the significant barriers to accessibility for post-secondary education?

7.1 The Argument for Free Tuition

We all accept the principle that all qualified individuals should have equal access to post-secondary education regardless of ability to pay or, for that matter, any other relevant socio-economic characteristics. The main point of the “free tuition” argument is that it is then necessary to eliminate tuition fees to ensure that affordability does not become a barrier to post-secondary education.

In a perfect world, there would be no costs associated with post-secondary education and it could be provided free for all who wanted to attend. In a real world of limited resources, however, post-secondary education would not be free even if tuition fees charged to students were zero. Providing free tuition simply means that the tuition-fee cost of post-secondary education is shifted from the student to the government and then on to the taxpayer. This would be fine if all taxpayers or their children received education at the post-secondary level. However, this is not the case in Canada or even in jurisdictions such as Sweden and Germany where tuition is effectively free. In fact, the majority of students who receive a post-secondary education are from middle- and upper-income families. Consequently, free tuition benefits middle- and upper-income families the most and therefore results in a regressive subsidy. This means that, under a free-tuition model, tax payers who have below-average economic means and, for the most part, whose children do not benefit from post-secondary education, would be subsidizing the education cost of students from higher-income families.

Even if lowering tuition fees to zero did eliminate the accessibility/affordability problem for students from low-income families, this would not be a valid argument for providing free tuition for all students. While it is an argument for subsidizing low-income students, it is not a valid argument for providing free tuition for high-income students, for whom accessibility is not limited by their family's financial means.

A second argument that is sometimes used to support the zero-tuition model is that post-secondary education is a public good and should therefore be fully paid for out of general tax revenues. The problem with this argument is that post-secondary education is not a pure public good. Instead, it has a substantial private component. Because the lifetime earnings of post-secondary education graduates are substantially higher than those of non-graduates, there is a substantial private benefit enjoyed by the graduates. A bachelor's degree, in a sense, has a monetary value that accrues—in the form of higher salaries—to its holder and accumulates with each passing year. In general, that long-term value far exceeds the cost of obtaining the degree. Therefore, we reject the argument that the public good characteristics of post-secondary education imply that tuition fees should be set at zero.

7.2 The Argument for Full-Cost Tuition

At the other end of the spectrum are proponents of full-cost tuition policy. The main argument in favour of charging students for the full cost of their post-secondary education is that, as graduates, they will enjoy substantial financial and non-financial benefits. Therefore, post-secondary education participants should also be expected to pay for the full cost of their education.

While it is true that substantial private benefits accrue to post-secondary education graduates, there are also additional benefits over and above the private benefits that accrue to society as a whole from having a more educated populace. [29] Even from a purely economic point of view, when the social benefits of an individual's education exceed the costs, it is efficient to ensure the individual invests in post-secondary education. However, because many individuals make their choice of whether to attend or not based on a comparison of the private benefits and cost, charging full cost for tuition would result in too few people attending post-secondary education simply because the private return is less than the social return. Charging full cost for tuition therefore results in under-investment in post-secondary education and a net loss to society as a whole

Therefore, the argument for full-cost tuition is flawed because it would result in a smaller number of post-secondary education graduates than is desirable from a social perspective.

Additionally, charging full-cost tuition would likely create even greater accessibility problems for low-income individuals. As a result, charging full-cost tuition would likely prevent many qualified individuals from having access to post-secondary education regardless of their family's financial means.

7.3 Other Barriers to Post-secondary Education

It is natural to suppose that high tuition represents the largest barrier to students from lower-income families. However, evidence suggests this may not be the case.

In Section 4, we saw evidence that participation rates in post-secondary education continued to rise for lower income groups throughout the 1990s even though tuition fees increased at unprecedented rates. In addition, the international evidence suggests that lower-income students are as under-represented in post-secondary education in countries with free or lower tuition fees such as Argentina [30] and, historically, the United Kingdom [31] as they are in Canada.

The study by Frenette (2002) that was discussed in Section 4 indicates that distance from an institution (and therefore cost of attendance) does affect individual choices about which institution to attend. In other words, the relative cost of attending institutions leads some individuals to substitute cheaper for more costly institutions. We would also expect that higher tuition fees for some programs would induce some students to substitute towards lower-cost programs.

The study by Hoy, Christofides and Cirello (2001) found no evidence that the overall participation rate in post-secondary education at the national level had a statistically significant relationship to tuition fees. Only one study that we are aware of has found a statistically significant (and negative) relationship between participation rates of low-income groups and tuition fees in Canada: Coelli (2004).

Survey respondents say that tuition fees are the key deterrent to post-secondary education [32] and this is undoubtedly true for some low-income individuals. However, for the bulk of low-income individuals, the Canadian and international evidence on the deterrent effect of tuition fee is inconclusive. What is clear is that tuition fees are just one of many factors that can affect the accessibility of post-secondary education for lower-income students. Other important factors are access to credit, risk and information about the benefits and costs of post-secondary education.

7.3.1 Access to Credit

Evidence indicates a post-secondary education is perhaps the best investment an individual will ever make. Recent studies have estimated the private rate of return to be more than 12% [33] , which is higher than the rate of return for most investments. Theoretically, current tuition fee levels would not present an accessibility barrier to low-income students, provided they could borrow the amount of funding they require at a reasonable rate of interest. It is true that lower-income students would graduate with higher levels of debt and would therefore not be as well off as higher-income students that do not incur debt. But, even with the debt, they would be better off than if they had not invested in post-secondary education at all.

Credit markets are imperfect, however, and are unlikely to provide adequate loans for education investments to all prospective students. This is why we have and need to continue to have student loans made available by the government. But under the current system, many students are unable to obtain student loans. This creates an access barrier. The remedy is to improve access to credit, which means improving the current problematic system of student loans. Section 6 of this report provides a number of recommendations in this regard.

7.3.2 Risk

Some individuals will earn much more and some will earn much less from investing in post-secondary education than the average rate of return on post-secondary education. Most individuals do not like to accept this kind of risk. The result is that even with publicly available loans in amounts that are adequate to cover the full cost of education and provide a high average rate of return, some risk-averse individuals will not borrow the money and invest simply because it is too risky. The structure of a typical student loan defers the need for any repayments until graduation, but then subjects the graduate to fixed payments on a fixed schedule, with a real positive interest rate (i.e. above the rate of inflation). The need to pay off this loan—and possibly make career or employment choices in order to dispose of the loan—is a burden that only enhances the risk of the investment.

Thus, risk creates another access barrier. Reducing tuition fees is one way of remedying this problem by improving the risk-return trade-off, but this is a blunt policy instrument that could have other undesirable consequences (such as increasing the tax burden on the general taxpayer and resulting in regressive transfers).

A more direct instrument is for the public to provide a form of insurance to the individual through guarantees and constraints embedded in the repayment schedule for student loans. This would remedy the accessibility problem caused by risk by effectively facilitating risk sharing between the state and the individual. This conclusion leads to our recommendations for systemic reform below in Section 7.5

7.3.3 Imperfect Information

The literature indicates that low-income high school students and their parents tend to overestimate the costs and underestimate the financial benefits of post-secondary education. Clearly, if the perception for some individuals is that the rate of return is much lower than it truly is, they will probably choose not to invest in post-secondary education. The remedy is to find a way to correct the misperceptions about the costs and benefits of post-secondary education among young people and their parents at an early enough stage in their schooling that they can make more informed decisions about their education. It makes little sense to target senior high school students with this kind of information because it is then too late for many of them to change their attitudes and academic achievements. Rather, it makes more sense to target children before they reach high school because this is a stage where they can make decisions and change behaviour to increase the likelihood of achieving the academic performance required to qualify for post-secondary education.

7.4 Principles for Cost Sharing

With the Task Force having rejected the zero-tuition model and the full-cost tuition model and having examined other factors that affect accessibility, the question becomes one of how much public support should be provided and to whom. Based on a thorough analysis of the evidence, the Task Force established three principles.

Principle 1: Post-secondary education costs should be subsidized for all students, regardless of financial background.

The social benefit associated with post-secondary education provides a clear rationale for public subsidization of any qualified individuals' post-secondary education. These benefits are enjoyed by everyone in society and are additive to those benefits enjoyed exclusively by the graduate. As the general public (taxpayer) benefits in many ways from having a more educated population, fairness demands that society should pay some of the costs. The total size of this social benefit, however, is difficult to measure.

Principle 2: The public share of post-secondary education costs in Ontario is at the minimum level that is acceptable from a social perspective.

Conceptually, tuition fees should be set so that the private share of post-secondary education costs is roughly equal to the private share of the benefits of post-secondary education or, conversely, so that the public share of costs is about equal to the public share of benefits. Many attempts have been made to gauge the public benefit of post-secondary education in the scholarly literature. The OECD (2001) report argues that one additional year of education leads, on average and in the long run, to an increase in output per capita of between 4 and 7 per cent and leads to other benefits such as a reduction in daily cigarette consumption by 1.6 for men and 1.1 for women, promotes the education of the next generation, is associated with higher rates of civic participation, volunteering and charitable giving, and lowers the risk of criminal activity. Davies (2002) summarizes the literature on this topic and concludes that the evidence on the size of the public benefit is very mixed in the sense that there is a large variability in the estimates. Nevertheless, he concludes that the evidence does suggest that it is possible that the public benefit is quantitatively of similar importance to the private benefit.

We believe the evidence does not yet support precise quantification of the public benefit share of post-secondary education, partly because it is inherently difficult to measure all of the many ways in which post-secondary education produces public benefits. The empirical evidence we do have is therefore very likely an underestimate of the true public benefit share. Even so, the existing data suggests that the public benefit share is substantial.

In the absence of any firm empirical basis for determining precisely what the appropriate share should be on the basis of the precise relative size of the public benefits of post-secondary education, it seems reasonable to look at the degree of sharing in other countries. Looking at OECD countries ( Figure 7 . 1 ), we see that the average private share of the cost of tertiary education paid by students was just over 20% in the year 2000, with a range of close to zero for Greece to a high of 77% for Korea. Canada is shown at 39%. Thus, Canadian students pay a larger share of the cost of their post-secondary education (this includes colleges and universities) than the OECD average, but less than in Australia and the U.S.

Figure 7 . 1 : Private Expenditure Share on Tertiary Education, 2000

Private Expenditure Share on Tertiary Education, 2000

Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2003

These country data indicate that, at about 61%, the public share of post-secondary education costs in Canada is lower than in the majority of OECD countries and lower than the average of 80%. Moreover, we saw in Figure 4.7 that the public share in Ontario is even lower at about 55%. Given this and what little we know about the empirical evidence on the public benefit share, including that it is likely to be downward-biased, we believe that the public share of post-secondary education costs in Ontario is at the minimum level that is acceptable from a social perspective.

Principle 3: Students from lower-income families should receive a larger subsidy.

It is clear from examining the evidence that there are accessibility barriers to post-secondary education for students from lower-income groups. We draw this conclusion directly from the observation that these students are under-represented in post-secondary education relative to the general population. However, it is much more difficult to determine what these barriers are and why they exist.

Our conceptual analysis has led us to conclude that tuition fees are but one of a number of factors that could reduce accessibility. In fact, we have argued that improving access to credit, reducing the risk associated with incurring debt to finance a post-secondary education and eliminating information misperceptions about the costs and benefits of post-secondary education, together would substantially reduce existing accessibility barriers.

Nevertheless, we believe that the full cost of obtaining a post-secondary education would remain a deterrent for some low-income individuals even with these reforms. Therefore, we believe there are grounds for providing further financial support for the most economically disadvantaged students. First, low-income individuals are more likely to finance their education with a loan than high-income individuals (who are more likely to receive funding from parents). This makes the private rate of return to post-secondary education lower for low-income individuals, but does not affect the relative social rates of return. As a result, the gap between the private and social rates of return is larger for low-income individuals and this would lead to even greater under-investment in post-secondary education. Therefore, using the same reasoning as is used to justify a public subsidy for all students, there are grounds for providing an even higher subsidy for the most disadvantaged individuals. Second, information imperfections are unlikely to be fully eliminated so that low-income individuals are likely to continue to underestimate the private return to post-secondary education. Introducing a larger subsidy is one way to compensate for this imperfection. Third, credit market imperfections and risk may persist even after our best efforts to eliminate them; both reduce the incentive for qualified low-income individuals to invest.

Thus, we conclude that there are valid arguments for making the subsidy to lower-income students higher than for other students. This conclusion leads us to support many of the recommendations in Finnie et al (2004). Specifically, as we have already argued, the student-loan system must be overhauled so that “need” is calculated realistically. [34] Next, the calculated “need” should be met by making available a student loan up to a cap, and we believe the $5000 annual cap suggested in Finnie et al is reasonable. Next, any remaining un-met need should be addressed with non-repayable grants up to the full amount of the un-met need. This last provision ensures that the most economically disadvantaged students receive appropriately higher degrees of subsidy.

Under the plan we have outlined so far, tuition fees would continue to be paid at current levels but a dramatically improved student loan system would make it easier for students to qualify for a student loan, would cap student debt at a level of $5000 per year, and would expand the availability of non-repayable grants to the most needy. We believe this would alleviate a good deal of the accessibility problems that exist in the current system. However, we go one step further in our recommendations because this plan does not address yet the problem of risk

7.5 A Systemic Solution

We believe an effective means for further enhancing accessibility to post-secondary education is to introduce a scheme of Universal Deferred Tuition . [35] This would simplify the granting of interest-free student loans that we described above and, more importantly, would address the problems of risk associated with debt accumulation that we have identified as a deterrent to participation in post-secondary education.

Deferred tuition is currently in use in Australia and is scheduled to be adopted in the U.K. in 2006. [36] Under this system, students accepted to a university are not required to pay tuition fees until after they have finished attending university (though they are given the option of paying up front). Instead, the government pays tuition fees on their behalf to the university and then undertakes to collect the fees from the students after they have completed their studies, possibly through the income tax system and preferably only after income exceeds a reasonable threshold. In the U.K., for example, the government will collect deferred tuition fees at the rate of 9% of annual net income, but only if income exceeds £15,000.

Universal deferred tuition radically changes the risks associated with investing in post-secondary education. Under the current system in Canada, students must pay tuition up front. For some, this means borrowing to pay and, of course, no one can know whether they will land a job after graduation that pays enough to meet the monthly loan payments. This creates a level of risk that makes many people averse to undertaking the debt in the first place and sometimes acts as an effective access barrier. Under the deferred tuition plan we are proposing, much of this risk would be eliminated. The deferred tuition is still a debt that must be repaid. However, our proposal builds in simple and transparent flexibility to the repayment rules. We propose that the deferred amount owing could be paid off as quickly or as slowly as the individual wishes, subject to a minimum annual payment that reflects ability to pay. This gives the individual the choice of making low monthly payments if that is the most they can manage financially, or larger instalments, or even full payment immediately upon graduation, if desired.

In addition, we propose that no monthly payments be required until the individual's monthly income rises above a threshold level (which we suggest be about $2000). The minimum annual payment required could be perhaps 10% of net income. Interest would begin accruing on the unpaid balance at the time of graduation at a rate that reflects the cost of finance (i.e. the market rate of interest) or at a subsidized rate. In the U.K., interest is charged at a subsidized rate equal to the rate of inflation (meaning the real rate of interest is zero). Finally, any balance that has not been paid after a period of 25 years could be forgiven, as in the U.K. model. [37]

If this plan were adopted in Ontario, deferred tuition would be made available automatically for all students attending post-secondary education in Ontario. All students would be offered, in effect, an interest-free loan in the amount of tuition. As a result, this plan would implement automatically the Finnie et al (2004) proposal that we have endorsed that the first part of calculated need be met with a loan. [38]

We believe that under this plan, some administrative costs to the provincial government would be substantially lower because student loans would be nominally eliminated and therefore the need to administer needs-testing for loans would be eliminated. [39] At the same time, other costs such as the financing cost of the plan would be considerably higher than the cost of the current student-loan plan. However, some or all of the additional costs might well be covered by savings in tax expenditures if tuition fees were to stop being tax deductible, as could reasonably be expected to occur under a deferred tuition system. Much further study is clearly required to determine the net impact on provincial finances of a deferred tuition plan.

We recognize that the income tax system could be used as a vehicle for collecting tuition fees only with the federal government's co-operation. [40] Currently, the federal government collects income tax on behalf of the Ontario government and remits it to the province. A similar arrangement would have to occur under the deferred tuition plan. An added complication is that a student who receives post-secondary education in Ontario may move to a different province or even a different country after graduating. However, there are a number of options for dealing with complications like this, and the experience of Australia and the U.K. would undoubtedly be helpful in considering different solutions.

As we have argued, the advantage of collecting tuition after post-secondary education is completed and income has surpassed a threshold level is that it substantially reduces the risk currently inherent in our system. As we have already mentioned, students who currently borrow funds to finance their education accumulate debt that must be repaid after graduation at a rate that does not reflect ability to pay, even if it leaves them impoverished. We have argued that the risk of this occurring may serve to deter a number of risk-averse but qualified individuals from participating in post-secondary education. Under the deferred tuition plan we have recommended, repayment begins only after income surpasses a threshold and then the repayment rate is as fast or as slow as the individual chooses, subject to a minimum annual payment requirement that is proportional to income. Moreover, the debt can be forgiven if it is not repaid over a period of 25 years. As a result, the risk of defaulting on the debt and the risk of being impoverished by an unmanageable debt burden are eliminated with the deferred tuition plan. We believe this would reduce substantially, if not eliminate, the deterrent effect of the risk associated with debt accumulation.

Under the universal deferred tuition plan, some students would still qualify for the non-repayable grants that we have recommended be introduced. Such students would receive deferred tuition which would be repayable after graduation and up-front annual grants that would not be repayable. The method of calculating “need” under the deferred tuition plan would be the same as without this plan except that tuition fees would not be included as a necessary annual expense. The calculations still would need to be realistic and would need to include a reasonable parental and student contribution. Any remaining unmet need would be made available in the form of a non-repayable grant.

7.6 Recommendations

  1. The University should make a commitment to the Principles for Cost Sharing outlined above, and encourage the government to acknowledge them as guidelines for the funding of education. To reiterate:
    • Post-secondary education costs should be subsidized for all students, regardless of financial background.
    • The public share of post-secondary education costs in Ontario is at the minimum level that is acceptable from a social perspective.
    • Students from lower-income families should receive a larger subsidy.
  2. The University should advocate for the establishment of a Universal Deferred Tuition plan. This will require cooperation between federal and provincial levels of government.
  3. This will require a feasibility study of Universal Deferred Tuition, incorporating more detailed costing and scoping, and comparative analysis of related plans in other national systems, to be conducted by the government in cooperation with university, college and student groups.

8 Group Barriers

This section of the report addresses barriers that restrict access to post-secondary education for particular groups of people. These include people with disabilities, Aboriginal Canadians, members of visible minorities, graduate, mature and international students and first-generation university students. Individual subsections address the issues pertinent to each group. These are followed by a concluding discussion of admissions and qualification issues that contribute to group barriers in general.

In this area, Task Force deliberations are based on principles entrenched in The Ontario Human Rights Code. The University of Guelph affirms the Charter and Code provisions in its Employment Equity Policy and its Educational Equity Statement. The Code assures everyone equal rights and opportunities in specific areas such as jobs, housing and services, including education. Its goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of race, colour, sex, handicap and other cited grounds. The Code also prohibits systemic discrimination—the existence of a requirement or qualification that is not discrimination, per se , but that results in the exclusion or restriction of a particular group of people. A requirement for bona fide educational qualifications does not constitute systemic discrimination. The Code supports the implementation of special programs to relieve the hardship or economic disadvantage that results from discrimination, to achieve equal opportunity. It also recognizes limits on the abilities of individuals and organizations to accommodate (“undue hardship” as the limit to “reasonable accommodation”).

Implementation of the principles embodied in the Code is an ongoing process. Here we address the concern that systemic barriers may limit access to post-secondary education for Aboriginal Canadians, members of visible minorities and people with disabilities. In principle, both quantitative and qualitative approaches can be applied to this task. For example, above we used quantitative measures to assess the participation of women and men in post-secondary education. Unfortunately, the availability and quality of data describing the groups of concern here (both as students and within the population) are limited and there is not agreement that such data should be collected.

Unfortunately, as will be evident below, even if the data we seek were abundant and of high quality, they would not be sufficient for our purpose. If all people aspired to and were equally qualified to benefit from a university education, systemic accessibility barriers could be identified by comparing the representation of particular groups among university students with their representation in the population. Lower representation of a group among students than among the population from which they come would suggest the operation of a systemic barrier. This process would overestimate the systemic barriers to post-secondary educations because justifiable academic qualifications impose just and reasonable bounds to participation. On the other hand, we could try to identify barriers by comparing the representation of particular groups among university students with their representation among qualified individuals within the relevant population cohort. However, members of particular groups may fail to qualify for university education because systemic barriers limit their access to primary or secondary education. Thus this process would underestimate the systemic barriers to post-secondary education.

Qualitative data (including reviews of policies and procedures, reports on the experience of individuals and groups) are also powerful indicators of accessibility. In this report we have assessed the accessibility of post-secondary education on the basis of available quantitative data and qualitative information.

8.1 Students with Disabilities

Post-secondary education is particularly important for people with disabilities. Credentials obtained through post-secondary education can reduce barriers to employment, and students with disabilities are highly motivated to succeed in their studies (Duquette, 2000). Both federal and provincial governments have recognized the benefits that will accrue to Canadian society if education and employment are made more accessible for people with disabilities (Government of Canada, 2002). However, students with disabilities continue to face particular barriers to participation in post-secondary education, including disability-specific living and learning expenses. Relative to others, students with disabilities may face:

  • admission criteria that limit their participation but are not bona fide academic requirements,
  • higher expenses while meeting admission requirements and higher non-tuition costs while studying, in some cases including costs of attendant care,
  • criteria for financial support that constitute systemic barriers (e.g. full-time study),
  • limited access to alternative sources of income such as lucrative summer employment,
  • a need for special, non-academic resources to keep pace with other students in class,
  • longer times to completion of their studies because of fatigue, practical difficulties getting to classes, and constraints associated with accessing suitable alternatives to existing course requirements.

Many accommodations designed to reduce barriers for people with disabilities also enhance access for all.

8.1.1 Population Characteristics

Various definitions have been used in surveys designed to describe the occurrence of disability within human populations, giving rise to varying estimates for the incidence of disability. In 2001, 3.6 million Canadians living in households reported having activity limitations, a disability rate of 12.4%. Adults with disabilities were less likely to be employed and had lower incomes than people without disabilities. Their educational attainments were also affected, though to a smaller degree. Thus, people with disabilities were underemployed in relation to their education levels (Statistics Canada, 2001, A Profile of Disability in Canada).

Table 8 . 1 : Educational Attainment, Employment and Income of Adults with Disabilities

Characteristic a People With Disabilities People Without Disabilities
Total Men Women Total Men Women
Highest Level of Educational Attainment b
Post Secondary 40 40 40 48 48 48
University 11 10 13 20 20 21
Labour Force Activity
Employed 42 45 39 74 78 69
Unemployed 5 6 4 6 6 5
Not in the labour force 49 45 52 21 15 26
Not specified 5 4 5 - - -
Income
None (% of population) 5 2 8 6 5 8
Average ($1000) 22.5 27.6 17.7 31.5 38.7 24.2
Median ($1000) 15.0 22.0 12.2 25.1 31.1 19.5
a Adults aged 15 – 64 who identified themselves as having or not having one or more disabilities
b Trades certificate or diploma, College or University

Source: Participation and Activity Limitation Survey, Statistics Canada, 2001

Conversely, educational attainment is a particularly powerful determinant of employment for people with disabilities. In 2001, the employment rate for Canadians with post-secondary education was 72.6%, whereas that for Canadians with a high school education or less was 65.6% (Statistics Canada, Catalogue No. 89F0133XIE). In 2000, the Canadian Paraplegic Association published the Workforce Participation Survey of Canadians with Spinal Cord Injuries. Of the respondents, 88% were male, 66% were injured before they were 24 years old and 84% before they were 34. Those respondents who had completed post-secondary training (before or after their injuries) were at least twice as likely to be employed as those who had a high school education or less. According to the 1996 census, Canadian men and women with disabilities who had completed post-secondary training were 2.2- and 3.4-fold more likely to be employed than those with a high school education or less, respectively (Advancing the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, A Government of Canada Report, 2002).

In 2001, over 150,000 Canadians with disabilities were five to 14 years old and another 150,000 were 15 to 24 (4% of each age cohort). On this basis and if people with and without disabilities were to qualify for university admission at the same frequency, approximately 700 students with disabilities would currently be registered at the University of Guelph. A higher (but fluctuating) proportion of students identified themselves as disabled via the Incoming Student Survey. In practice, about 700 students are currently registered with the University of Guelph's Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD). However the representation of disability types reported by Guelph students differs from the reported occurrence of disabilities in the population at large.

8.1.2 Legal/Policy Framework

The Ontario Human Rights Code defines the University's duty to accommodate students with disabilities. It determines that, unless they are reasonable and bona fide on academic or other grounds, University requirements or qualification must not exclude or restrict people with disabilities. In addition, it provides a legal basis for programs designed to mitigate the effects of systemic discrimination against people with disabilities. In 1986, people with disabilities were guaranteed equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The University of Guelph affirms the Charter and Code provisions in its Employment Equity Policy and its Educational Equity Statement.

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA, 2001) obliges the University each year to consult persons with disabilities in preparing a public accessibility plan. The plan must address the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to persons with disabilities in the University's policies, programs, practices and services. Extensive consultations completed after enactment of the ODA led the Ontario Human Rights Commission to publish The Opportunity to Succeed: Achieving Barrier-free Education for Students with Disabilities (2003). It lists actions post-secondary institutions should take to reduce barriers faced by students with disabilities, providing a checklist against which current initiatives at the University of Guelph can be compared.

The University of Guelph Senate adopted a Statement of Intent Concerning the Education of Students with Disabilities in 1985. Further developments (both policy and practice) have followed to the present. [41]

8.1.3 Administrative Framework for Accommodation

The University of Guelph features a number of entities that share responsibility for accommodating the needs of students with disabilities. The University's Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee (APDAC) is responsible for preparing the Accessibility Plan required by the ODA. In the process, the Committee identifies accessibility issues on campus and promotes the removal of barriers.

The Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD) creates and administers programs designed to ensure access for every academically qualified student. Services of the CSD are available for registered students at the University of Guelph. Students can be full or part-time, graduate or undergraduate and they must have appropriate documentation from a medical or mental health professional. The Library Centre for Students with Disabilities (LCSD), located in the McLaughlin Library, provides services and technologies that enable students with disabilities to read, write and research more effectively.

The Universal Instructional Design Project was a study undertaken by the University's office of Teaching Support Services with the support of the provincial Learning Opportunities Task Force. [42] The term "Universal Design" refers to the creation of physical spaces and objects that consider the needs of people with disabilities and are hence more accessible and useful for all people. By analogy, courses designed and delivered with the needs of students with disabilities in mind may likewise be more accessible and effective for all people, regardless of possible disability, learning style preference, or personal background. The goal of Universal Instructional Design is to create a classroom environment in which diversity is respected and valued. According to UID principles, instructional materials and activities should be accessible, fair, straightforward and consistent. They should provide flexibility in use, presentation and participation, be explicitly presented and readily perceived, provide a supportive learning environment, minimize unnecessary physical effort or requirements and ensure a learning space that accommodates both students and instructional methods

The Campus Accessibility Committee (CAC), with representation from the CSD, Physical Resources, Student Housing, Classroom Technical Support, students and faculty, provides advice on all major construction/renovation projects with accessibility concerns. CAC recommends retrofit projects to be funded from the University's Facility Renewal Program Funds or other resources. It also advises Physical Resources of areas where accessibility should be improved or means to otherwise accommodate the persons involved. The ultimate objective of this process would be to create a campus that conforms to the principles of Universal Design.

The mandate of the Human Rights and Equity Office (HREO) is to co-ordinate the University's initiatives in the areas of discrimination and harassment and employment equity, and to support the Office of the Provost in the area of educational equity. The office aims to create an environment for university life that is free from discrimination and harassment and to promote equity in employment and education.

Many of the initiatives designed to support students with disabilities at the University of Guelph have relied on special programs and funding from the province of Ontario. Though generous, many disability-related government initiatives are limited in term (e.g. the Learning Opportunities Task Force, which recently led to dramatic enhancements in the University's ability to accommodate students with learning disabilities or ADHD). It is important to ensure that gains made as a result of these short-term initiatives are followed up with an institutional commitment to sustain the resulting accommodations.

8.1.4 Student Recruitment and Admissions

Students with disabilities apply to the University of Guelph through the admissions process administered by the Ontario Universities' Application Centre. All applicants may submit a Student Profile Form (SPF), and students with disabilities are directed to the Supplemental Student Profile Form for Students with Disabilities (SSPF-D), which asks that they identify the nature of their disability. Applicants are strongly encouraged to complete and return the SSPF-D to the CSD if they believe that, because of a disability, their admission average does not reflect their academic potential. They are also asked to provide a letter from their school verifying their disability, outlining any special accommodations or special assistance given and other information that will help the University anticipate their potential for success. Currently ten places per year are designated for students with disabilities who have documented academic potential and barriers to prior academic success but who have not been admitted on the basis of other submitted documentation (their grades and SPF). This number should be doubled as it is not sufficient to support the number of students currently deemed qualified for entry by CSD staff.

8.1.5 Financial Support Designated for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities can, in principle, use the array of financial supports available to others and described elsewhere in this document. Additional financial aid is provided by agreement between the federal and provincial governments (e.g. Canadian Millennium Excellence Awards). But access to key programs and scholarships is restricted to full-time students. While the required credits can be completed over a 12-month period, this may require students to remain at university for all three semesters in a given year, raising issues of forgone income and fatigue. CSD staff note that registered students cite lack of stamina as a barrier to full-time study, yet they feel pressure to continue full time to maintain financial support and obtain needed credentials. Adding to this pressure, credits obtained through part-time study are discounted during admissions processes for some post-secondary programs.

Students with disabilities who are registered with the CSD are currently permitted to retain Chancellor's and President's Scholarships while studying part time. The University has begun to focus on awards that are available to both full- and part-time students. However, the University should recommend that full-time study not be an eligibility criterion for students with disabilities who are candidates for federally or provincially funded scholarship, grant, bursary, and loan programs.

The Canada Study Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities and the provincial Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD) provide students with up to $8,000 and $2,000, respectively, to meet the disability-related costs associated with full- and part-time participation in post-secondary education. To qualify for funding, students must have qualified for financial assistance through OSAP for the current academic year, have disability-related educational costs not covered in the standard OSAP assessment, and be registered with the CSD. Students may qualify for support if they do not meet the usual OSAP eligibility requirements but have calculated financial need when disability-related support costs are included as education-related costs.

Disability-related educational expenses that may be funded include tutoring services, readers, note takers, interpreters (oral and sign), attendant care for studies, talking calculators, tape recorders, vision/hearing/learning aids, learning disability assessments (approximate cost $1,200), computers and software, special-needs accessories for computers, counselling and specialized chairs. Loan and bursary assistance is also available for deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing students who must attend out-of-country postsecondary institutions for disability-related reasons. Since many students first recognize that they may have a disability while enrolled at the University, these funds may prove critical in documenting a disability in order to gain access to services offered by the CSD. Full- or part-time students with a temporary disability may receive up to $2,000 per academic year.

Applications are submitted via the CSD, and the funding is awarded to students with the greatest need up to a total assigned to the institution on the basis of the number of students registered with the CSD ($275,000 in 2003-2004). Most students receive less than the maximum $10,000 amount, and to date, students who meet the eligibility criteria have been funded (approximately 200 per year). The BSWD is necessary for students with disabilities to access an educational experience comparable with that of their peers. The duty to accommodate these students should not be linked to their (or their family's) income. The requirement that the bursary be linked to OSAP eligibility is thus too restrictive and should be relaxed.

STARR (Science and Technology Abilities Recruitment and Retention) is an innovative partnership among eight science-based federal departments and agencies to recruit and retain persons with disabilities into scientific and technical positions with the Federal Public Service. STARR was created to bring the representation of persons with disabilities to a fair and equitable level across departments and agencies through the active recruitment of students and new graduates. This initiative includes visible minority persons with disabilities, aboriginal persons with disabilities and women with disabilities. The purpose of STARR is to provide a number of students with disabilities who are enrolled in science and technology programs at universities and colleges across Canada with job training through participation in various work experience programs offered by the partnering departments and agencies. It also supports the establishment of methods to encourage career development of persons with disabilities within the partnering departments and agencies.

Other scholarships designated for students with disabilities are described by the CSD web page on Awards and Scholarships (www.counselling.uoguelph.ca/csd/awards.shtml) and by the website of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (www.neads.ca).

8.1.6 In-Course Experience of Students with Disabilities

As noted above, the CSD is the primary provider and co-ordinator of services for students with disabilities. These services are tailored to individual needs.

Housing: Student Housing Services provides residence assistance such as private rooms, accessible rooms (26 currently available), cooking facilities or rooms in a quiet area for students with disabilities. There is also provision for students who study part time. Students have reported dissatisfaction with the grouping of accessible rooms in selected areas and efforts are being made to address that concern.

Transportation: The City of Guelph Transportation Advisory Council includes a representative from the Student Affairs office. The city operates six mobility vans which are available on 24 hours notice. Nine of the city's fleet of 51 buses are currently “low floor,” and the city plans to systematically increase that proportion. Wheelchairs must be tied down during transit, and the bus drivers will not do this. Thus, those who are in a wheelchair and cannot tie themselves down cannot ride the bus independently. This problem is mitigated by the fact that a free bus pass is available so that an assistant can accompany a student with a disability. No accessible taxis are available in Guelph. The University does not provide transportation on campus, but the CSD can arrange to hold examinations in accessible locations.

Academic Accommodations: The CSD can help with classroom accommodations such as early access to book lists, arranging note takers, preferred seating arrangements, and arranging for ASL or oral interpreters. The CSD co-ordinates and invigilates exams for students with disabilities. Typical accommodations include extra time, a quiet room, use of a word processor and use of readers and scribes in exam settings. Other services provided through the CSD include sighted guides, campus tours, an individualized orientation program, sign language interpretation for registered students or prospective students, a resource library (books, videos, journals), and photocopying.

Diverse services are provided by the Library Centre for Students with Disabilities. They include adaptive technologies and instruction in their use, searches for and ordering of textbooks in alternate format (e.g. audiotape, Braille, large print, or electronic files), instruction in using Library resources and retrieval of inaccessible print materials (requires 24 h written notice and is only available on weekdays).

Instructors at the University of Guelph are encouraged to implement Universal Instructional Design principles. As noted above, the LCSD provides textbooks and other course materials in alternate formats. Timely provision of these materials depends on their timely identification by academic departments and on the provision of materials of appropriate print quality.

Some students are unable to access the Library's book and journal stacks or use the Library Reserve area. They are thus prevented from browsing the Library's collections. This problem is being alleviated as Library holdings are converted from print to electronic format and could be further alleviated via development of an electronic browser. As space becomes available due to conversion from print to electronic collections, print holdings should be arranged to better accommodate browsing by students with disabilities.

The University's program for students with learning disabilities is called the Learning Opportunities Program (LOP). The LOP includes a summer transition program, a fall orientation program, a credit course in learning disabilities, consultation with and on-going monitoring by a qualified Advisor and/or a writing tutor, examination and classroom accommodations, library support and access to adaptive technology, and referrals to other professionals on campus, such as personal and career counsellors, stress management programs and academic counselling. An advisor for students with disabilities is available to meet with any student who suspects that an undiagnosed learning disability or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be interfering with academic performance. If a learning disability or an ADHD is suspected, a recommendation is made for a formal psycho-educational assessment with a registered psychologist.

Physical Accessibility: Students with limited mobility note that physical barriers continue to limit their participation in educational and other activities at the University of Guelph. This reflects both the age of many University facilities and the University's continuing struggle to meet the costs of deferred maintenance campus-wide. New construction can be designed for accessibility at little or no added cost. Many renovations designed to enhance accessibility require limited capital expenditure and can be combined with initiatives undertaken for other reasons. To clarify the University's approach to campus accessibility, the University should state a Policy on Physical Accessibility through Physical Resources. In addition, the cost of retrofitting University facilities for physical accessibility should be estimated and donors encouraged to create an Accessibility Fund.

8.1.7 Post-graduate and Professional Education

Barriers and supports are described above in terms of their impact on access to undergraduate education for students with disabilities. As discussed extensively in the report Removing the Barriers to Graduate and Professional Education and Careers (AGAPE Committee, COU, 1998), the issues to be addressed in facilitating access to post-graduate or professional education programs are similar but not identical. Students in post-graduate programs are more likely to be financially independent than are undergraduates and they are more likely to be parents. Post-graduate and professional students study in an environment that may be more competitive, and their accommodation needs may be more extensive. Issues arising during post-graduate or professional education may foreshadow those to be experienced during subsequent employment. The report of the AGAPE Committee provided the recommendations for the removal of barriers to graduate and professional education and careers. This Task Force recommends that the Dean of Graduate Studies be asked to create a mechanism for review and implementation of these recommendations, as appropriate at the University of Guelph.

8.1.8 Recommendations

Actions to be taken outside the University of Guelph:

1. The University administration should continue to advocate merger of disability-related Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) funding envelopes, where possible, to increase flexibility and simplify reporting. To address past delays, funds from the Print-Alternate Materials envelope should be distributed directly to colleges and universities for their use in the preparation of these materials.

2. The University administration should advocate that MTCU continue funding the enhanced accommodation of students with learning disabilities or ADHD created recently with Learning Opportunities Task Force funding and extend that funding for research and program development for other groups, especially whose with hearing or psychological disabilities.

3. The University administration should advocate that full-time study not be an eligibility criterion for students with disabilities who are candidates for federally and/or provincially funded scholarship, grant, bursary and loan programs.

4. The Bursary for Students with Disabilities is necessary for students with disabilities to access an educational experience comparable with that of their peers. The duty to accommodate these students is not linked to their (or their family's) income. The requirement that the bursary be linked to OSAP eligibility is thus too restrictive, and the University administration should advocate that it be relaxed.

Recommendations for actions to be taken within the University of Guelph:

5. While improving the accessibility of the University of Guelph for students with disabilities, the University has created multiple entities with overlapping mandates (see Administrative Framework for Accommodation). This framework should be reviewed and revised as necessary to ensure that future efforts will be as effective as possible.

6. Since university admission is highly competitive, some qualified applicants (with and without disabilities) currently fail to be accepted. Registrarial Services should designate 20 places per year for students with disabilities who have documented the impact of disability-specific barriers on their prior academic success (as assessed by CSD staff) but who have not been admitted on the basis of other submitted documentation (their grades and Student Profile Form).

7. The Senate Committee on Awards should:

  • recommend revised wording for the Senate Statement of Intent Concerning the Education of Students With Disabilities, eliminating references to “disabled students” and “handicapping disabilities”.
  • work with College Awards Committees to make new awards available to full- and part-time students as a matter of University policy. (The Senate Committee has recorded the need to request that full time study not be an eligibility criterion for new awards.)
  • work with Alumni Affairs and Development and College Awards Committees to create additional awards designated for students with disabilities.

8. Student Affairs should:

  • continue efforts to distribute newly accessible residence rooms as widely as possible on campus.
  • support efforts by the City of Guelph to improve transportation access for students, staff and faculty with disabilities.

9. Teaching Support Services should continue to offer opportunities for teachers to learn and implement Universal Instructional Design principles. The University administration should work with faculty and staff to develop an institutional policy regarding the application of universal design principles in courses and campus services.

10. Without compromising other academic objectives, departments, instructors, purchasing agents and the Bookstore should:

  • use course-related print materials that are also available in electronic format.
  • recommend textbooks that are available in alternate formats (e.g. PDF).
  • ensure that textbooks have been selected two months before the first day of class so that students with print disabilities can get the required texts in an appropriate format as each semester begins.
  • ensure that completed course outlines are available one month prior to the first day of class, that they include exam dates and formats, and that they specify assigned readings available through Library Reserve or CoursePaks.
  • accept only clear, unmarked copies of print material as bases for CoursePak production.

11. The Library should:

  • undertake creation of an electronic browser so that students who are unable to physically browse the University's print collections can do so electronically. This will also enhance access by all users to the TUG library collections, which are geographically dispersed.
  • as space becomes available due to conversion from print to electronic collections, arrange book and journal holdings to facilitate browsing by students, staff and faculty with disabilities.

12. Physical Resources should:

  • formulate a policy on physical accessibility, more clearly stating the University's commitment to consider accessibility in all its activities.
  • estimate the cost of retrofitting University facilities for physical accessibility, and Alumni Affairs and Development should create and encourage donors to support a corresponding Accessibility Fund .

13. The Dean of Graduate Studies should create a mechanism for review and implementation of the recommendations of the AGAPE Committee, as appropriate at the University of Guelph.

8.2 Aboriginal Canadians and Visible Minorities

Aboriginal Peoples and visible minorities represent two groups that have historically been subject to forms of discrimination. This marginalization and exclusion have inhibited proportional participation in a wide range of social institutions, and university education is no exception. Access barriers are all too evident and are, or at least at one time, were entrenched through persistent bias. It is therefore important to examine whether and how high these barriers still stand and what measures might be taken to address them.

An ad hoc mixture of national and university-specific data will be needed to render recommendations with broader implications. [43] In essence, the university specific data will be used to provide contextual information about the number of undergraduates at Guelph who are Aboriginal and visible minorities, while the national data will allow a Canada-wide comparison that will not only garner an appreciation of the barriers to participation at the University of Guelph but will also uncover new and innovative policies that will attract and improve accessibility for Aboriginal Peoples and visible minorities.

8.2.1 Aboriginal Canadians

Currently, approximately one million Canadians identify themselves as Aboriginal (Statistics Canada, 2003a, 6). [44] With Aboriginal Peoples making up 3.3 per cent of the national population, Canada ranks second in the world, behind New Zealand (14%) but ahead of Australia (2.2%) and the United States (1.5%) in terms of the proportion of its Aboriginal population (Statistics Canada, 2003a, 7).

Even though Canada's Aboriginal population is concentrated in the North and in the Prairie provinces, Ontario has the largest absolute population (188,310) of Aboriginal Peoples (Statistics Canada, 2003a, 10; 2001 Census, Statistics Canada). In fact, in 2001, Ontario's Aboriginal population accounted for approximately 2% of Ontario's total population.

Table 8 . 2 : Percentage of Aboriginal Identity Population in Canada, Ontario and Guelph

Aboriginal Identity Canada Ontario Guelph
North American Indian single response 2.1% 1.2% 0.54%
Métis single response 1.0 0.43 0.16
Inuit single response 0.15 0.01 0.0
Multiple Aboriginal responses 0.02 0.02 0.009
Aboriginal response not included elsewhere 0.08 0.05 0.02

Source: 2001 Census, Statistics Canada

Twenty-five per cent of Canada's Aboriginal population can be found in 10 metropolitan areas: Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Saskatoon, Regina, Ottawa-Hull, Montréal, and Victoria (Statistics Canada, 2003a, 6). [45] Even though Toronto was home to 18,030 aboriginal people in 2001, Toronto's aboriginal population only accounted for 0.4% of its total population (4,334,335).

We know that, in general, students are more inclined to attend a university which is close to home (Harrington and Grant, 2000). This appears to be a strong factor for aboriginal students as well. The institutions with the highest Status Indian enrolment are all located near major Reserves or other concentrations of Status Indian population. [46]

Table 8 . 3 : Status Indian Enrolment, 1999-2000

Colleges or Universities City Enrolled Status Indians
Saskatchewan Indian Federated College Regina 1,001
University of Manitoba Winnipeg 801
Brandon University Brandon 593
University of Saskatchewan Saskatoon 586
Confederation College Thunder Bay 567
Malaspina University College Nanaimo 451
Red River College Winnipeg 425
University College of the Cariboo Kamloops 413
Lakehead University Thunder Bay 384
University of Alberta Edmonton 366

Source: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada; Junor and Usher, 2002

But the availability of academic programs and student support services specifically oriented toward aboriginal students is another powerful influence. Since the 1970s, Manitoba has encouraged aboriginal participation in post-secondary institutions through access programs (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 24-26). [47] The engineering, nursing and education programs offered by Lakehead University are examples of access programs that have merged aboriginal culture and traditions with non-aboriginal post-secondary education institutions. Research also suggests that barriers to post-secondary education for Aboriginal Peoples can be removed through community delivery (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 24-39; Student-Environment Study Group, University of Guelph, 1992; Mishibinijima 2004). By offering its Northern Teacher Education Program in Aboriginal communities, Brandon University respects the educational needs of the Aboriginal community while also addressing the financial and familial barriers that limit accessibility (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 26).

The establishment of Aboriginal post-secondary educational institutions has proven to be another way to encourage Aboriginal participation. Aboriginal control of the First Nations University of Canada (formerly the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College) is successful because it incorporates traditional ways of knowing and learning with Aboriginal faculty and staff (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 28-31). Similarly, partnerships between Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal post-secondary education institutions (for example the First Nations Partnership Program with the University of Victoria) and programs offered at non-Aboriginal post-secondary education institutions specifically designed to address Aboriginal learning goals and needs are exemplary ways to remove barriers to accessibility (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 32-35).

A useful assessment of Guelph's progress in attracting aboriginal students would be to compare the aboriginal enrolment at Guelph with that of other universities in Ontario and throughout Canada (taking into account geographical effects as noted above). Unfortunately, the data that might support such comparisons does not exist in reliable form. There is an overall deficiency in national data on post-secondary education for aboriginals (Junor and Usher, 2002; R. A. Malatest, 2004; Castellano and Lahache, 2000; Student-Environment Study Group, University of Guelph, 1992). Some institution specific data is available, but like overall demographic data, it is hampered by problems of incompatible classification and underreporting. Even the best estimates of aboriginal enrolment at Guelph require aggregation of sources. In 2003-04, twenty-eight students received formal Band funding (Student Financial Services, 2004), and another 40 students were determined by the Aboriginal Students Association (2004) to be of aboriginal descent.

The participation of Aboriginal students in post-secondary education is growing at a rate that is faster than that of other minority groups (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 5). The number of Status Indians enrolled in post-secondary education grew from 4,100 in the late 1970s to almost 27,000 by 2001 (Junor and Usher, 2002, 52). This represents an increase of approximately 700 per cent. Status Indian enrolment in colleges and trade or vocational institutes, for 2001, exceeds enrolment in universities by some 3,500 individuals. (Junor and Usher, 2002, 53).

Unfortunately, while enrolment increases, the post-secondary completion rate of aboriginal students is much lower than other demographic groups. Studies suggest that historic barriers work in tandem with a wide variety of social, geographic and demographic, cultural and personal and familial forces to complicate an Aboriginal student's ability to not only access but also succeed at post-secondary education (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 11-17; Student-Environment Study Group, 1992; Mishibinijima 2004). A deficiency in the level of academic preparedness [48] (for example, the lack of academic courses and skills, study skills, and/or time management skills) and the scarcity of aboriginal staff and faculty to give expertise and to act as mentors, role models and advisors to both the student and the university heighten distrust while undermining an aboriginal student's self-confidence and motivation. And the feelings of loneliness that result are only amplified when the aboriginal student finds him/herself in an alien, often urban, environment lacking personal and family support systems.

The fact that social assistance benefits and seasonal jobs are the primary sources of income for aboriginal families, coupled with the high level of unemployment in aboriginal communities, [49] serves to further complicate accessibility for potential aboriginal post-secondary students (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 13; 2001 Census, Statistics Canada). Status Indians and Inuit can receive funding through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, but if they do not receive any financial support, they, like non-Status Indians and Métis, must apply for assistance through the Canada Student Loans Program. [50] In the end, current estimates suggest that of those aboriginal students who want to go to university, only half receive financial support (Herrmann, 2001, 11). [51]

Moreover, aboriginal students are, on average, older, female and more likely to have dependents than their non-aboriginal counterparts. This creates a need for special programs not only to encourage Aboriginal students to thrive but also to enhance their university experience (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 14; Student-Environment Study Group, 1992; Mishibinijima 2004).

The establishment of the Aboriginal Resource Centre at the University of Guelph addresses the academic and social needs of the University's Aboriginal student population. In fact, the purpose of the centre, operated through Student Life and Career Services, is to provide academic and personal support to aboriginal students while promoting a positive aboriginal identity on campus. The recent addition of a visiting aboriginal elder as well as the creation of an aboriginal-based Living and Learning Centre would work to improve the social and learning environment for Aboriginal students once they have arrived at the Guelph campus (Mishibinijima 2004).

8.2.2 Visible Minorities

With over 200 different ethnic groups, Canada is a rich mosaic of cultures (Statistics Canada 2003b, 12). In fact, approximately four million (13.4%) of Canada's total population of more than 30 million identify themselves as visible minorities. [52]

Figure 8 . 1 : Visible Minority Population, Canada

Visible Minority Population, Canada

Source: 2001 Census, Statistics Canada

While Canada's total population grew by 4% from 1996 to 2001, the visible minority population grew by 25% (Statistics Canada, 2003b, 10). Statistics Canada estimates that by 2016, one-fifth of Canada's total population will identify themselves as visible minorities (Statistics Canada, 2003b, 11).

With a total population of over 11.2 million, Ontario is home to approximately 2.1 million visible minorities (19%).

Figure 8 . 2 : Visible Minority Population, Ontario

Visible Minority Population, Canada

Source: 2001 Census, Statistics Canada

It is important to note that Ontario's visible minority population is not evenly distributed geographically. According to the 2001 Census, over 1.7 million visible minorities currently reside in Toronto (Statistics Canada, 2003b, 18). This represents approximately 80% of Ontario's visible minority population.

Figure 8 . 3 : Visible Minority Population, Toronto

Visible Minority Population, Toronto

Source: 2001 Census, Statistics Canada

Canada's rich cultural mosaic is approximated on university campuses. According to the 2000 Graduating Students Survey conducted by the Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium, approximately 13% of the 6,000 students polled at 20 university campuses across Canada, considered themselves to be a visible minority (Junor and Usher, 2002, 51). The proportion of visible minorities at university campuses ranged from 17% at larger campuses (typically in large, urban centres) to 7% at smaller campuses (Junor and Usher, 2002, 51). Guelph, as a medium sized university falls in the middle of this range: 14.1% of incoming students consider themselves visible minorities (Incoming Student Survey, 2004). This proportion has steadily increased over the last five years.

Table 8 . 4 : Self-identified Race or Colour, Incoming Students, University of Guelph, by Year

Race or Colour 2004-05 2003-04 2002-03 2001-02 2000-01
White 85.9 86.2 88.9 88.2 89.9
South Asian 3.0 3.0 2.2 2.5 2.2
Southeast Asian 0.9 0.8 0.5 0.7 0.21
East Asian 5.0 5.7 4.7 4.4 3.5
North American Indian 0.4 0.3 0.1 0.2 0.6
Inuit 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0
Black 1.4 0.6 0.8 1.4 1.0
Other 3.3 3.3 2.7 2.5 2.6

Source: Incoming Student Survey, University of Guelph

The student body at the University is somewhat more diverse that the overall residential population of the City of Guelph. Approximately 3% of the City of Guelph's population is East Asian, 3% is South Asian, 1% is Southeast Asian, and 1% is Black (2001 Census, Statistics Canada).

Figure 8 . 4 : Visible Minority Population, City of Guelph

Visible Minority Population, City of Guelph

Source: 2001 Census, Statistics Canada

While both University and City of Guelph are not as diverse as Toronto, both are as diverse as the province of Ontario, excluding Toronto. In fact, when Toronto's population is removed from Ontario proper, the proportion of Ontario's population that self-identify as visible minorities falls from 19.1 per cent to 6.6 per cent (Statistics Canada, 2003b, 28; 2001 Census, Statistics Canada).

Nevertheless, as we noted in Section 2, participation is not accessibility. The fact that Guelph's student population is significantly more diverse than that of Ontario outside Toronto is in itself of little use. It may mean that the perception, discussed in Section 3, of Guelph as a homogeneous institution is inaccurate, but it does not alter that perception.

In 1995, University of Guelph students opened the Munford Centre on campus to provide a focal point for anti-racism and race relations resources and a drop-in centre for students. The resource centre runs a mentoring program that pairs up first-year students with senior students in the same program, co-ordinates book exchanges and organizes cultural events and open-forum discussions. The Human Right and Equity Office also provides services to facilitate the removal of systemic barriers, discrimination and harassment and engages in advocacy within the university community towards this end.

Two Lincoln Alexander scholarships, named to honour Guelph's Chancellor on his 80 th birthday, are awarded each year to academically distinguished entering students who are Aboriginal, persons with a disability or members of a visible minority, and who have made significant contributions to their schools and communities and demonstrated the potential to become leaders in society. These $20,000 scholarships ($5,000 annually for four years) are intended to enhance student diversity and are among the most prestigious entrance awards at the University.

Guelph could invest more effort in developing programs that address student body diversity. For example, in 1996, as a part of Project Go, the University of Guelph faculty, staff, and students established a focused liaison effort with J.C. Hill: the middle-school (grades 6-8) that serves the Six Nations community. Project Go was a pilot project launched in 1995 between the University of Guelph and L'Amoureaux Collegiate Institute in Scarborough and its feeder schools, Sir Ernest Macmillan and Silver Springs. Despite winning an award for the initiative, through the Learning Partnership, Project Go concluded a few years after its inception due to funding cuts.

Programs do exist elsewhere that could serve as models for Guelph to enhance its diversity. The University of California's educational outreach programs target participation by minorities and students at the states lower-performing schools (University of California, 2004). These programs include the Early Academic Outreach Program, K-12 partnerships (e.g. the Puente Project), and programs enhancing student preparation for college, including the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) and the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA).

The Transitional Year Program, offered by the University of Toronto, is a special access program for adults who do not have the formal educational background to qualify for university admission (University of Toronto, 2004, 10; Educational Research and Development Unit, 2004). For over 30 years, the Transitional Year Program has actively solicited applications from adult members of the native Canadian, African-Canadian and other minority communities, as well as from sole-support parents who, for a variety of reasons, including financial and familial, did not complete high school (Brathwaite 2003). With “no fixed standard of admission,” the Transitional Year Program reviews each application on an individual basis “… in order to assess the need of candidates, to judge their level of motivation, commitment and academic promise, and to assess existing academic skills” (University of Toronto, 2004, 11). The Transitional Year Program admits approximately 60 students each year, and these successful applicants spend one year taking an intensive full-time course load, which provides them with the information and skill set, through small group discussions and personalized counselling, necessary to thrive in an university environment. Students who successfully complete all of the courses in the Transitional Year Program with an average of 65% are guaranteed admission into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Toronto.

In 1992, the Transitional Year Program expanded, in partnership with the Toronto District School Board, to include the Steps to University Program. [53] This program also seeks to enhance accessibility by providing disadvantaged high school students the opportunity to take a first-year course through the University of Toronto while they are in high school. Although the students take the course at their high school, they do have access to the libraries and resources at the University. In fact, the students participate in a variety of on-campus activities to introduce them to university. By introducing students to university life in this fashion, the program seeks to demystify university while fostering confidence in a student's ability to succeed at post-secondary education. With the successful completion of the university course, each student not only receives a transcript from the University of Toronto but also can use the credit toward the completion of a bachelor's degree in the Toronto's Faculty of Arts and Science. The benefits of this initiative extend beyond encouraging the participation of traditionally disadvantaged high school students to helping those students who, having already decided to attend university, want to sharpen their analytic and writing skills.

The University of Toronto's Transitional Year Program is similar to a program offered by the University of Alberta. In addition to the Transitional Year Program and the Steps to University Program the following initiatives also seek to enhance diversity: the Regent Park Learning Exchange Program (a collaboration among the University of Toronto, Toronto Community Housing and the Regent Park Resident Council) and the Pathways to Education Program.

8.2.3 Recommendations

1. Work with stakeholders including Statistics Canada to establish consistent data sources and benchmarks that facilitate the measurement of progress in improving access for aboriginal and visible minority students.

2. Engage in discussions with Ontario's various aboriginal groups to find creative ways, whether through the establishment of an access program or through the development of aboriginal-specific programs, to reach the aboriginal population and encourage their participation in post-secondary education.

3. Review current practices employed by other universities to develop the academic skills and knowledge of aboriginal and visible minority students .

4. Examine how well the University supports and encourages the personal and academic success of aboriginal and visible minority students enrolled at the Guelph.

5. Develop and implement a set of programs by the University that will enhance accessibility by generating a student body that is not only educationally well prepared to graduate but also representative of Canada's cultural, ethnic, geographic and socio-economic mosaic.

8.3 Graduate, Mature and International Students

Graduate students, mature undergraduates and international students (those holding student visas) face unique and challenging issues that affect their ability to enter and succeed at the University of Guelph. Graduate students include those in master's and doctoral programs across campus. Most of these students are at the University, but there are also programs offered through distance education. It should be noted that these categories are not mutually exclusive, e.g., international graduate students.

Winter 2004 enrolment for the University of Guelph was 17,296 (Guelph campus only). Of these, 15,357 were undergraduates and 1,939 were graduate students. Of the undergraduates, 327 were international students. And, of the graduate students, 296 were international ( Enrolment Systems and Statistics, 2004).

“Mature” students are undergraduates age 21 or older who have been out of secondary school for at least two years. Ages of undergraduate students are shown in Table 8 . 5 . The University does not ask students if they are in the “mature” category. About 15% of the undergraduates are 24 or older. There are 844 students over 25, which accounts for 5.5% of undergraduates.

Table 8 . 5 : Ages of Undergraduates at the University of Guelph in Winter 2004

Age Number Percentage
19 or younger 2054 13.4
20 2806 18.3
21 2904 18.9
22 2700 17.6
23 2645 17.2
24 965 6.3
25 424 2.8
26 or older 844 5.5
Total 15342* 100.0

* Note: Some students did not report their birth dates.

International undergraduate students at Guelph come from 52 countries; graduate students at Guelph are from 72. The U.S. is the source of 23% of the undergraduates here on student visas, but only 7.1% of the graduate students. Twenty three percent of the undergraduates here on student visas are from the United States compared to only 7.1% graduate students. The highest number of international undergraduates and graduate students is from Asia.

Table 8 . 6 : International Students on Student Visas, Winter 2004

Country/Region Undergrads Percentage Graduate Percentage
Africa 24 8.2 29 7.9
Asia 89 30.4 142 38.6
Caribbean 68 23.2 12 3.3
Central America 6 2.0 12 3.3
Europe 11 3.8 30 8.2
Mexico 2 0.7 26 7.1
Middle East 4 1.4 27 7.3
Pacific 0 0.0 4 1.1
South America 5 1.7 31 8.4
South East Asia 9 3.1 19 5.2
United Kingdom 9 3.1 10 2.7
United States 66 22.5 26 7.1
Total 293* 100.0 368* 100.0

*Note: Some students did not report their home country.

8.3.1 Method

The Task Force received input from the Graduate Students' Association, the Dean & Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, the Mature Students Association and the Senate Committee on Internationalism. In addition, Angela Vuk, who is completing her MA in sociology on the issues faced by graduate students with families, provided a summary of her survey findings to the Task Force.

An online survey was also conducted as a means of gathering data on graduate, mature and international students. [54] This was the second of two online surveys conducted for the Task Force (results from the first were summarized above in Section 5.3 ). E-mails requesting participation were sent to all graduate and international students. Responses were received from 365 students: 24 undergraduates (mature or international students), 218 magisterial students and 123 doctoral students. Breaking the respondents into domestic and international gives us 269 domestic and 69 international graduate students. The survey contained open-ended questions that allowed students to provide answers and extended comments, as well as closed-ended questions (containing lists of possible responses).

8.3.1.1 Limitations

Neither Vuk's survey nor the online survey is a true representative sample. So we cannot say that the results represent the opinions of all graduate students, but the results do inform us of students' opinions and concerns. A second limitation is a more general one pertinent to many accessibility studies. We do not have data from people outside the University who may not be students due to accessibility issues.

8.3.2 Major Findings

The findings are presented for the groups combined; special issues related to only one or two are noted.

8.3.2.1 Financial

Financial issues are pertinent to all three groups. [55] In terms of student expenditures, undergraduates who are either mature students or international students ranked tuition first, housing second and food third. Interestingly, domestic graduate students ranked housing as their number one expense and tuition second. International graduate students ranked tuition first and housing second. Food comes in third for both domestic and international graduate students. Vuk found that two-thirds of the male and one-third of the female graduate students with child care responsibilities are living below the poverty line. Clearly, financial issues are a concern to graduate students. This is supported by the open-ended comments on the online survey.

Approximately 68% of the domestic graduate students and 48% of the international graduate students indicated that they have previous (to graduate studies) and/or current debt. The average total debt is $25,829 for domestic and $22,128 for international graduate students. A total of 67% of the undergraduates in the online survey responded that they have previous or current debt, with the average at $25,906. When asked if their debt load is manageable, 61% of the undergraduates, 65% of the domestic graduate students and 67% of the international graduate students said “yes.” However, that leaves about one-third of all the students who responded to the second online survey feeling that their debt load is not manageable.

The overall debt level of undergraduates in Canada was $20,286 for the 56% of undergraduates with debt. These data are from the Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium: Graduating Students Survey 2000. The Ontario debt level was $22,700 as reported by Lang Research in 2001. In the survey of graduating undergraduates conducted at Guelph in spring 2004, the mean total debt was $23,542 (median $22,000) for those students with debt. Looking at only OSAP, CSL and other government loans, the mean was $16,781 (median $16,000). The difference between total debt and this figure is accounted for by bank loans, loans from relatives and other sources.

The largest funding categories for graduate students are awards and scholarships both external and internal to the University, teaching and research assistantships, and personal savings. More doctoral than master's students have awards and scholarships from sources external to the University. Breaking the graduate students into domestic and international reveals a similar pattern, except that international students are less likely to have awards and scholarships. They are also less likely to have teaching assistantships. About half of both domestic and international graduate students indicated that they have research assistantships. Domestic graduate students are more likely (26%) than international graduate students (10%) to depend on the employment support of a spouse/partner. About 40% of the graduate students depend on personal savings, and about 30% rely on support from their extended families.

One of the challenges for all students, but especially graduate students, is knowing how much income they will have from teaching/research assistantships, awards, scholarships, bursaries and loans for their studies. To help with this problem and to encourage graduate students to study at Guelph, the University now guarantees a minimum stipend for new doctoral students of $17,500. This is based on a combination of teaching/research assistantships, awards, scholarships and bursaries. A goal of the University is to extend the guaranteed minimum stipend to all graduate students—magisterial and doctoral—in the future. A specific date when this goal can be reached cannot be given at this point.

8.3.2.2 Child Care

In her study, Vuk found that child care is a very important issue for graduate students with children. Child care is also a financial issue, but it should be considered separately. The cost of the University of Guelph Child Care and Learning Centre is on a par with other high-quality child care centres in Guelph, such as the YMCA/YWCA. In 2003-2004, the University provided 17 bursaries totalling $11,410 (average of $670) to cover the cost of child care. All 17 were used. The bursaries can be used at the Child Care and Learning Centre or at other child-care centres. The money for these bursaries came from the tuition reinvestment fund.

8.3.2.3 Social Networking and Information Availability

Mature, international and graduate students can all benefit from social networking. Arriving in a new city or perhaps a new country, starting a new program, moving into a new apartment and trying to find child care can be intimidating. Information and counsellors are available, but new students do not necessarily know how to access the information or find a counsellor. Organizations, such as the Mature Students' Association help a great deal, but developing more ways to link students is very important.

In his research on retention at the University of Guelph, Gilbert et al (1997) found that social networking was a critical variable in predicting whether undergraduates continued their studies. Having a network of friends was found to be more important than academics.

It is essential for mature, graduate and international students to know the full cost of tuition, housing, food, books, UHIP, and so on, when they begin their studies. Many of these students have saved for their higher education and find it very difficult if they spend more than they projected. Accurate information on the full cost of degree programs needs to be easily accessible and apparent to those who may be searching for this information from abroad.

In addition, all students need to be able to access information on the availability of loans, awards, scholarships, work-study programs and other ways they can fund their university education. The information Guelph provides should also cover national and provincial programs so that students have complete information in one place. Units such as the Centre for International Programs and the Office of Graduate Program Services have systems and programs in place to provide this type of information.

8.3.2.4 International Students

The Strategic Planning Commission and Senate affirmed the importance of internationalism to the University of Guelph. In keeping with the mission of internationalism, the University has an “international recruitment strategy.” Currently, recruitment is primarily in Caribbean countries and in the United States. Undergraduates from the Caribbean and the United States account for almost half (45.7%) of the international students at Guelph ( Table 8 . 6 ).

Although many countries are represented in our student body, there are relatively small numbers of international students at Guelph. Countries such as Australia recruit Canadian students in programs such as teachers' training. In fact, universities in the countries that participate in the “TEACH” program use the Ontario curriculum so that graduates can apply for teaching jobs as soon as they return to Canada. Ontario students certainly benefit from doing their teachers' program in a foreign country. The University could launch programs similar to TEACH to attract international students to our campus.

A unique problem for international students is that they cannot work off campus. This exacerbates any financial challenges that arise from the differential level of international tuition fees , even though Guelph's international fees are the lowest or among the lowest in Ontario. The University should advocate a change in this rule to the government on behalf of our international students. The Province of Manitoba is conducting an Off-Campus Work Permit Pilot Project which can provide guidance to our proposal to the Ontario and Canadian governments. [56]

8.3.3 Recommendations

1. Many graduate students enter graduate studies with a significant debt load. Through scholarships, assistantships and bursaries the University must endeavour to ensure that graduate students do not add to their debt during graduate studies.

2. Despite our strategic focus on internationalism, the number of international students at Guelph remains low. The University should devise a better strategy to raise its profile and recruit more students from around the world. International students bring different perspectives to our campus. Canadian students benefit tremendously from learning with international students. And Ontario students certainly benefit by going to programs in other countries, e.g., the TEACH program. The University should consider launching programs specific to the academic needs of students from other countries.

3. Information on sources of funding for students considering graduate studies could be enhanced. The information package should also include child-care, housing and community material.

4. International students should be allowed to work off campus. A pilot program similar to the one in Manitoba should be launched collaboratively with the Canadian and Ontario governments and the universities in Ontario. The University of Guelph can be the leader to make this happen.

5. The guaranteed minimum stipend program is an important step forward and the University should explore the feasibility of extending it to all graduate students. This will enable them to plan for the full cost of their programs.

6. Special attention should be paid to the information available to mature students. Since mature students have been out of school for at least two years, the Learning Commons should provide guidance and tips on studying, taking exams and writing papers.

7. High-quality child care is a major concern of graduate students with children. The University must ensure that there are enough spots available.

8. The University should implement programs to help facilitate networking of graduate students with families. Vuk has suggested:

  • a family night at the Athletic Centre and
  • programs specifically for children of graduate students.

Programs such as this would be particularly helpful for international students with families.

9. Faculty supervising graduate students with families should be encouraged to make appropriate accommodations.

10. Faculty and staff must be cognizant of possible cultural differences when advising international students. This is particularly important when dealing with international graduate students who will work directly with faculty advisors over a long period.

8.4 First-Generation University Students

In many ways, the complex web of group accessibility barriers can be simplified by a focus on first-generation students or potential students. One of the strongest predictors of an individual's interest in university is whether or not his or her parents have a post-secondary education. [57] Families that have never been associated with university have the least accurate information about the costs and benefits of university, take the least advantage of programs designed to assist access, and are the least comfortable with the whole ‘university experience.' As we have seen, lack of familiarity is an access barrier in itself, and it complicates any other more tangible barriers encountered.

This is not to say that parents who were unable to attend university tend to socialize their offspring against the notion—on the contrary, many of the proudest parents at convocation are those who constantly pressed their children to take part in this level of education as “family pioneers.” But lack of access to university education in one generation leads in general to lower incomes and narrower career choices, which can perpetuate some of the same accessibility barriers into the next generation. Conversely, making the familial “leap” to university can interrupt this cycle and lead to positive feedback on incomes, health and general social accessibility.

Special attention to the needs and perceptions of potential first-generation students addresses, at least in part, the barriers facing traditionally disadvantaged groups. In recognition of this, a number of universities (particularly in the U.S.) offer scholarships specifically targeted at first- generation university students. Generally, the definition of “first generation” is not overly strict, and individuals can qualify if neither parent and no siblings participated in post-secondary education. These needs-based awards represent a pool set aside to encourage participation by a group whose members serve as “keystones” for the future access of their families.

Just as important as these scholarships are the outreach and support programs a number of universities have put in place to address unique challenges these students face in their quest for a degree. First-generation students can often use additional help in managing conflicting obligations; their families are less likely to understand the demands placed on a university-level student and how much less time a student may have available than in high school. These students also have to straddle what can be two quite divergent cultures: family and friends on the one hand, the university community on the other. Other challenges include overcoming gaps in academic preparation, learning techniques for time management, dealing with the impersonal nature of the university bureaucracy and combating the “impostor syndrome.” [58]

First-generation access can also be enhanced through targeting programs that identify and attempt to influence or at least inform high school students with high grades and test scores but who have not expressed much interest in university. Such programs are typically conducted in co-operation with high school guidance staff and lead to the presentation of extra information about university admission.

Another strategy is simply to create programs that establish more casual links between the university and the community—essentially establishing for the university an identity as a familiar and non-threatening resource, rather than the stereotypical imposing and impersonal ivory tower. Brock University has a particularly well-developed schedule of events organized for secondary and even primary students in local communities. First-generation access is not the primary purpose of these events, but they are designed to appeal widely and draw in families who might not otherwise visit a campus. College Royal and S@GE (Science at Guelph Experience) are obvious Guelph examples of the same sort of programming.

8.4.1 Recommendations

1. The Office of Alumni Affairs and Development should explore the possibility of awards targeted toward first-generation students.

2. Student Affairs, the Learning Commons, and other units should be encouraged to develop outreach programs that draw members of the community to the campus, thereby enhancing the perception of the University as an open and accessible institution. These programs should involve the participation of local children at both primary and secondary levels.

3. The Council on Undergraduate Academic Advising should ensure that appropriate support programs are in place for the needs of first-generation students.

8.5 Admissions and Qualification

The various group accessibility barriers discussed above represent challenges to a university's ability to fulfill its mission. Most universities want to be seen as progressive and enlightened institutions that value diversity; some actively envision themselves as leading agents of active social transformation. But to champion diversity as a core value, institutions must actually achieve it.

A common approach toward this goal is to focus attention on what the U.S. Department of Education (2004), has called “admissions strategies,” which promote diversity and lower access barriers by adapting and evolving the policies and procedures that match incoming applicants with institutions. Such strategies can be effective, but they can also generate resistance. The number of places in a first-year class is limited and essentially fixed; selecting one individual for admission to satisfy a strategic target necessarily involves exclusion of someone else. If the decision about who is “qualified” to be granted a place at university takes on additional normative and goal-seeking dimensions, it becomes subject to second-guessing and questions about motivations.

An alternative strategy is to take a more developmental approach and concentrate on fostering the academic preparedness of secondary students before they identify themselves as university applicants. Indeed, a developmental strategy may have as a specific goal the encouragement of applications by those who might not, left to themselves, have chosen to consider university. Strengthening links between secondary and post-secondary systems and institutions, and enhancing mentoring and support systems for university applicants and matriculants, is also an important part of this type of approach.

The core value is not to reorganize and subdivide a fixed pool of applicants, but rather to swell that pool with additional qualified entrants, and to develop the skills that allow individuals to demonstrate their qualifications. Whereas admissions strategies reluctantly emphasize and sharpen the competition for limited spots, the developmental approach embraces the natural competition for university spaces in a positive way “by enriching the pipeline of applicants equipped to meet entry requirements and achieve academic success” (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, 4). Successful developmental strategies encourage more applicants to work harder and achieve greater distinction. Moreover, they can, over the long term, render the need for aggressive admission policies and procedures unnecessary.

The Department of Education contends that

approaches that focus exclusively on the admissions process, without regard to student development both prior and subsequent to admission, can never provide more than partial remedies (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, 6).

Accordingly, any discussion of enhancing accessibility or diversity in post-secondary education is negligent if it emphasizes solely the admissions approach. Nevertheless, admission strategies do provide a way to enhance accessibility by adapting institutional rules and regulations to address systemic biases that continue to endure, while developmental initiatives, which bring about broad societal change through comprehensive programs, work to serve members of historically under-represented groups.

Articulation agreements, which facilitate the transfer of students between community colleges and universities, provide an avenue for traditionally disadvantaged groups to gain enhanced access to university education. The articulation agreement between the University of Guelph and Six Nations Polytechnic has the potential to increase accessibility, but has met with limited success. [59]

A concerted marketing effort aimed at community colleges, coupled with outreach and academic support programs for students enrolled at community colleges, might increase enrolment of historically underrepresented groups. Guelph could also follow the example of the University of California and the University of Guelph-Humber program in forming enduring partnerships with community colleges. [60] For example, Guelph-Humber “will consider admitting General Arts and Science students (from Humber College) who have completed the University Transfer Certificate with a GPA of 75 per cent or above, as well as meeting specific entrance requirements” (Humber College, 2004). [61] No such arrangement exists with the University of Guelph main campus.

Initiatives adopted by Queen's University Faculty of Law and by the University of California apply a developmental approach to admissions by considering, on an individual basis, a broad range of factors in addition to grades. [62] At Queen's University there are three major categories of admission into the first-year law class of approximately 160 students. While the majority of students are admitted in the “General Category” about 20% of first year students are admitted from the “Aboriginal Category” and the “Access Category.” The latter group includes economically, socially or educationally disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and mature students. The stated policy is that “traditional measures of academic performance and LSAT scores may be given comparatively less weight under this category, while personal factors confirming the applicant's special circumstances or unique qualities may be given comparatively more weight” (Queen's University Faculty of Law, 2004).

An exhaustive review of the applications from the aboriginal and Access Categories is conducted by the Admissions Committee at Queen's Faculty of Law and this review encourages a contemplative understanding, as opposed to a formulaic consideration, of the skill set and abilities of each applicant. Nevertheless, while the Faculty of Law at Queens' University have defined their eligibility requirements expansively, the selection criteria that the Admissions Committee employs to select among the eligible applicants is unknown. This distinction is important to make.

In 1995 and 1996, the Board of Regents at the University of California and the voters of the State of California voted to terminate race-conscious practices in the University's admission process (University of California, 2003). In subsequent years, intake of minority students dropped significantly. As a result, the University implemented a series of initiatives to correct this imbalance.

In addition to the inclusion of developmental initiatives that targeted disadvantaged students through a series of outreach and educational partnerships with primary, secondary and community colleges, the University of California implemented the Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) program. This program seeks to admit the top four per cent of the students from each high school in California. [63] As a result, students from urban and rural high schools, who have traditionally not accessed the University of California, have the opportunity to do so with significant support during their senior high school year. Moreover, the University of California has amended their definition of academic achievement to include

… a more comprehensive assessment of academic achievement and potential. The prior guidelines had included only four academic criteria (grade point average, test scores, number of academic courses completed, and number of honours-level courses completed), all of which were entirely quantitative … recommended adding consideration of such factors as quality of the senior year program, marked improvement in academic performance, and the quality of performance relative to the educational opportunities available in the applicant's school (University of California, 2003, 8).

The University of California also changed the definition of the supplemental criteria used in their admission process to include

a broader range of personal talents and achievements, including achievement in outreach programs and other special projects or programs, and academic accomplishments in the light of the applicant's life experiences and special circumstances (University of California, 2003, 8).

Whether these initiatives are having their intended effect is not yet clear. Minority enrolments in the University of California system are rebounding, but have not yet returned to pre-1995 levels (University of California, 2003, 3, and A2-A3).

To overcome the barriers to a university education, admission policies and procedures must adopt a review process that is not formulaic. While the University of Guelph has, for a number of years, successfully made use of a Student Profile Form to admit students up to five per cent below cut-offs to particular programs, the Student Profile Form has not been used in all programs nor has it been assessed comprehensively. In order to acknowledge that academic performance as well as personal achievements work together to determine a potential student's ability to succeed, the admissions process must be holistic and multi-dimensional.

Developmental admissions strategies have a natural partnership with high school guidance counsellors. Both share the goals of better informing secondary students about their options, developing useful and applicable skills, and assisting young people in channelling their raw energy and interests into a path that builds a more substantive personal future. As we saw in our focus group discussions with them (section 4 ), guidance counsellors are well acquainted not only with the value proposition that university represents, but also the modes of misapprehension that can inhibit students from giving proper consideration to university as a choice.

Unfortunately, decreasing levels of government funding for secondary schools have caused the numbers of high school guidance counsellors to dwindle. Consequently, the ability of high school guidance counsellors to liaise with students and parents to encourage participation, and to correct misinformation, has been compromised. Universities like Guelph have responded in part by engaging faculty, staff, and students to assist in outreach programs that advise and mentor secondary students, and in a sense assist oversubscribed guidance counsellors in their roles as advisors. These efforts, sometimes rather informal, need to be encouraged, and perhaps rewarded.

8.5.1 Recommendations

1. Invest in additional developmental linkages and programs with secondary schools and community organizations. This effort can simultaneously address the need for the University of Guelph to take a more active role in inspiring and enhancing the intellectual life and culture of the City of Guelph and its surrounding communities.

2. Recommend to the province that funding be restored and targeted so that the number of high school guidance counsellors can be significantly increased.

3. Develop and encourage programs that bring members of the University community together with guidance counsellors to foster cooperative relationships for the purpose of mentoring students and providing academic support.

4. Renew the attempt to open a dialogue and conduct focus groups with a wider sample of guidance counsellors, in order to generalize and enhance the accuracy of the impressions documented and discussed in Section 4 . Consider organizing this effort in cooperation with Guelph-Humber.


Part III: Discussion

9 Discussion

In Part II, we explored in detail the various facets of accessibility and the related issues. A large number of recommendations were identified at all scales. In this section, we attempt to discuss the issues in a more integrated fashion, bringing together issues and recommendations identifying cross-cutting concerns and potential conflicts. Some recommendations thus far deal with specific processes exclusive to the University of Guelph; others are far more general and pertain to the entire university system of Ontario (and even Canada as a whole). We will also develop further some of the higher level arguments set forth in the previous material.

9.1 The Argument for Bold Systemic Change

9.1.1 The Role of Risk

The economic analysis presented in Section 7 clearly demonstrates that perceived risk is a crucial factor in financial decisions that affect accessibility. Because students currently must pay up front for their education, but receive the expected benefits only after graduation, they are effectively gambling that the investment in education will pay off in the form of higher salaries, more career options and a better quality of life. We firmly believe that, unlike most state-sponsored forms of gambling, this is usually a good bet, with a significant and positive expected return.

Nevertheless, it is a risk. Not all students graduate; not all graduates find high-paying jobs; not all individuals choose to pursue high-paying jobs; and so on. And students of limited financial means—those who cannot afford to pay their tuition costs up front—must essentially gamble with the borrowed money of student loans, further increasing their risk, in some cases beyond the level of comfort or acceptability of an individual or family. When these risks become too great, qualified individuals opt out of a university education that would have benefited them. Risk is itself a key accessibility barrier.

We also know that this risk is poorly understood by those facing it. Section 7 demonstrates that prospective students significantly overestimate the costs of university, and simultaneously underestimate the benefits—by as much as 300%. [64] Moreover, it is precisely those for whom the risk is even more of a factor— students and families of limited financial means—who most severely miscalculate and magnify the perceived risk. We have recommended better communication of this information to address this misperception, so that students can make more informed decisions, but it is not clear that better publicity can actually remedy what seems to be a deeply ingrained aversion to the risk of paying tuition.

A universal deferred tuition system largely eliminates this risk and, with it, a major barrier. Instead of having to convince students that university is a better gamble, we take the dice out of their hands entirely. To use comparative metaphors, students in the current system of front-loaded tuition are gamblers risking their limited means on a long-term potential payout. In a deferred tuition system, students are more like contracted authors who receive an advance from a publisher interested in their work. That advance must eventually be paid back from the royalties accruing from the work, but if the book never gets written or sells poorly, the author is not plunged into debt. It is the publisher who assumes the risk, primarily because publishers who invest in good authors will reap the benefits. In a deferred tuition system, the government takes on the risk of developing well-educated young people and does so justifiably because society as a whole stands to benefit from a better-educated populace.

9.1.2 Simplifying an Overcomplicated System

The analysis of risk is essentially a positive argument for deferred tuition. There are also more negative ones (in the political sense of decrying the alternatives). The Task Force was in no way surprised to find evidence of continued deterioration of the OSAP and CSL programs. Founded with good intentions, these schemes have over time developed exceptions, qualifications, constraints and intricacies that render them useless to many families who truly need assistance and a burden to those who manage to navigate successfully through the bureaucratic maze. Guelph and other universities have in turn evolved complex systems of grants, bursaries, contingent funding arrangements and other modes of compensation for the shortfalls or apparent inequities of OSAP and CSL. The financial assistance system in Ontario is frankly a mess, and while it is possible to identify specific ways in which its flaws can be incrementally mitigated and its procedures fine-tuned, the option of simply starting over afresh is very tempting. We need to consider a paradigm shift.

Universal deferred tuition does away with OSAP per se; it does away with the entire notion of “student loans” as they exist today. It largely does away with the intrusive and inevitably flawed process of “means-testing.” It eliminates the need to “qualify” for loans separately from qualifying for academic admission: once you are accepted to university, you become eligible for deferred tuition. [65] There is no gap into which academically qualified but financially disadvantaged students might fall—and thus no need for complex rules and procedures to determine how far into that gap individuals are at risk of falling or how much assistance they need or deserve to rescue them. Because there is no gap in the systemic funding profile, there is no need for a University GAP program to make up the shortfall or top up funding for the marginally eligible.

Because up-front fees are fully covered, students do not need to exhaust their initial resources, or be forced to take up part-time jobs simply to cover the gap between loans and expected contributions. Because students are treated as financially independent individuals, families are not obliged to make monetary sacrifices to support their children (and because all students are assessed as equally independent individuals, those who truly have no family support to draw upon are not disadvantaged as special cases requiring yet another layer of documentation and support). Students may still choose to work, and generous parents may wish to contribute funds, but such choices are true options, not requirements of an expansive and intrusive means-testing system.

Means-testing as it currently operates requires students and their families to demonstrate that they don't have the means—in a sense, show themselves to be financially incapable—in order to get help. The point of a means test is to fail it. With deferred tuition, all students automatically qualify for financial assistance. The test comes later, when those who have, through education, acquired the financial means to pay back their share of costs do so in proportion to their ability. The whole point is to succeed at the test instead of fail.

Another way of looking at it is that one single (but admittedly wide-ranging) systemic recommendation (universal deferred tuition) effectively pre-empts many of the detailed recommendations in Section 6.6 . There is no need to address specific failings in OSAP or bursary administration if global reform of the system makes those topics moot. The sheer volume of identified issues and recommendations regarding OSAP and its numerous thresholds and exceptions and eligibilities—and the fact that many of them represent recurrent complaints—is the mark of a program that has reached a point of collapse. Such programs need to be rethought at the level of their goals. Universal deferred tuition addresses the problem at this level.

It is often observed that for every complex problem, there exists a simple, elegant and intuitive solution that is completely wrong. Financing tertiary education is certainly a complex problem; is universal deferred tuition merely that trivial but misguided solution full of unintended consequences? We think not, in part because, despite the argument toward simplicity, deferred tuition is not, in fact, that simple a system. The core concept of shifting risk from front to back end, and from individual to government, is straightforward. There are, however, a great many details to be worked out. Many of these are identified in Section 7 ; others may not become apparent until further study or concrete proposals are developed at the governmental level. We are fortunate in that we can draw upon the “laboratory” experiments in deferred tuition being conducted in other higher-education systems elsewhere.

In section 3 , we suggested that zero tuition was a simple, intuitive solution that is, in fact, subject to the above observation. Zero tuition oversimplifies the issue to the point of invoking counteracting effects that diminish equity rather than enhance it. Deferred tuition is a “simple solution” in the sense that it not only directly addresses a key accessibility barrier afflicting those of limited financial means—the risk of pre-emptive investment in education—but also does away with one of the most burdensome and counterproductive parts of the current system: OSAP student loans. The simplicity—in the positive sense—of this proposal is that it acknowledges the inevitability of income taxation as a means for government to modify the financial capabilities of citizens, and uses it to the good purpose of helping students to finance education, rather than subjecting them and their families to an additional set of burdens.

Nevertheless, universal deferred tuition is recognizably a radical approach to resolving the continuing and accumulating problem of education financing. Implementing it will require both careful study and policy analysis, as well as institutional and political will. Section 7 explains that a deferred tuition system can be revenue neutral overall, but there will clearly be some transitional effects on public finances when a system is brought in; governments are never particularly enthusiastic about such “hiccups” in the spending pool (or at least are very politically sensitive to their timing).

One possible objection to this proposal is that it perpetuates the inequality between lower- and higher-income students. The latter can afford to prepay their deferred tuition (taking advantage of the inevitable incentives for prepayment) and graduate debt-free, while the former will feel the extra tax bite for several years until their fees are paid off. Our answer is, first, that this same scenario occurs today: deferred tuition does not make the asymmetry any worse. Further, the unequal distribution of wealth is a fact in our society; political economists differ on its desirability but not its existence. Expecting an education financing scheme to address or modify this inequality is unrealistic.

Our more limited goal is to ensure that the inequality of wealth does not lead to an inequality of access. Currently, students of limited means must essentially mortgage themselves to obtain an education. Not everyone can afford to buy the house they want, and most people settle for a house they can afford. This is an inequality of access, and both homebuyers and prospective students are deterred by perceived risk (“What if I lose my job and can't carry the mortgage?”). We believe qualified students should never have to settle only for a university they can afford. The choice of university should be based on academic—not financial—qualifications.

We should note that we are specifically privileging university education above most other forms of individual and social spending (i.e., while income-contingent repayment of home loans would make it easier for everyone to own a mansion, we are not proposing to remake every sector of our economy). We believe education is important enough as a social good to deserve such special treatment. This is not a significant departure from current practice; we already accept outright grants, tax relief, and low-interest loans as incentives for individuals to pursue higher education. We feel that what is needed to ensure access is a more effective, more equitable, less risky incentive.

9.1.3 The Importance of Total Costs

Deferred tuition alone does not eliminate all personal cost or risk. The opportunity cost of spending three to four years studying rather than working can be significant for lower-income individuals or the families who may be depending on their earning power. It is also tempting to conceptualize deferred tuition as purely a tuition fee-defrayment scheme, which ignores the significant and possibly dominant role of room, board, living and other ancillary costs in the overall student budget. As we have tried to identify in this report, discussions of accessibility too often focus purely on the “sticker price” of education—raw tuition fees—and overlook these additional costs. Because of our residential orientation (and the relatively high price of housing in our city), this is a particularly important correction for the University of Guelph. Institutions with a higher proportion of local “commuter” students have in general a lower overall cost of attendance than Guelph. A room in the family home and a monthly TTC pass are a lot less expensive than a rented apartment.

Any complete deferred tuition plan must therefore contain a framework for addressing “total costs.” Some level of supplemental government-supported grants will still be necessary, though this will be far less extensive than required today to supplement OSAP. But whereas a common deferred tuition mechanism can and should be expected to apply to all universities in the system, the same may not be true for non-tuition costs. We expect that Guelph will need to pay particular attention to providing bursaries to cover costs of living. The good news is that deferred tuition will free up funds for this purpose, funds that otherwise would have been allocated for partial tuition defrayment and OSAP supplementation. In other words, redesigning the systemic approach to education funding in Ontario can help us to redesign a better, more targeted and effective institutional plan for financial assistance, a plan that recognizes our institutional peculiarities and distinctiveness.

Even in the absence of systemic change, we need to address non-tuition costs as a potential barrier. The current debate is too narrowly focused on tuition as a primary or sole financial challenge to university attendance. We believe this focus reflects the continued inability of OSAP and related programs to adequately address accessibility. In a sense, policy-makers have been stalled on tuition—unable to advance beyond the issues posed by a single easily measured fee, to confront the equally daunting but less well-defined problems raised by a bigger and more diverse range of other costs. This is another argument for bold action on tuition: it lifts the system up over the barrier of thinking about tuition as the only issue, and releases resources—both financial and conceptual—to deal with total costs.

9.1.4 Ripple Effects

In a sense, we believe that the significant systemic change represented by universal deferred tuition can help break the logjam that now hinders appropriate focus on ancillary and living expenses as accessibility barriers. Change at this level also affects, at least in part, many other issues that are highlighted above and that are the target of specific recommendations. Section 8 documents the particular challenges faced by various social subgroups such as visible minorities, students with disabilities, and mature students. Members of such groups also tend to have lower than average incomes, and therefore greater exposure to the inhibiting effect of financial risk. We already know that the prospect of a significant student loan (as currently structured) can be daunting to healthy family-supported 18-year-olds. How much more chilling is the risk of educational debt when one has a family to support or faces the additional costs imposed by a disability? And as noted above, when financial ability to pay goes down, perception (and overestimation) of risk increases. Removing that risk can be expected to have proportionally more positive effects on the perceived ability to afford an education.

Not all social barriers have an economic component, but the deterrent effect of financial risk is an unwelcome complicating factor that further stresses members of disadvantaged groups. As with total costs, tuition financing is a generic and salient issue that draws off much of the policy and administrative effort and ingenuity that could otherwise be directed toward solving the more specific issues of cases and groups with particular needs.

9.1.5 Cautions

We have argued for universal deferred tuition as a bold approach that “changes the rules of the game.” But not all the rules need to or should be changed. We base our argument on the analysis of section 7 , but in that same section is another argument that cannot be overlooked: tuition fees, as a proportion of the costs of education, are already at the top of the acceptable range from a social perspective. The introduction of deferred tuition cannot be taken as an opportunity to allow or encourage significant inflation in tuition levels.

This will no doubt be seen as a temptation, because a key attractive feature of deferred tuition is that it eliminates the need for up-front concern over ability to pay as a participation deterrent. But if students no longer need to worry about tuition fees before applying to universities, the calculus of political cynicism suggests they might be less conscientious about resisting imposed increases. Institutions might perceive this as an opportunity to restore historical cuts in operating funds; governments could see it as an opportunity to get ‘something for nothing' or worse, as a means of further downloading the costs of education on to students. Any move to deferred tuition must include commitments to prevent unjustified increases in fees. This necessarily entails renewed provincial commitments to restoring appropriate levels of direct operating funding for the university sector.

9.1.6 Alternative Responses to Risk

The Task Force also considered other means of mitigating the inherent risk of financing education. Two proposals are cohort fees and graduated fees.

9.1.6.1 Cohort Fees

Cohort fees are a scheme whereby tuition levels are fixed for each cohort at entry. The same fees would be charged every year of a three- or four-year program (in some formulations, the fees are inflation-indexed, to avoid actual decay of funding in real terms over a cohort's academic career). The primary argument in favour of this model is that it eliminates the uncertainty of future tuition increases; students and their families can plan for a stable expense profile from matriculation to graduation. This, of course, makes the unjustified assumption that non-tuition costs can be subjected to the same level of control.

Simplifying the task of planning for university is undoubtedly a worthy goal. And there are likely some individuals for whom tuition fees are barely on the margin of affordability. Such individuals may be forced to drop out if tuition increases rise faster than their personal ability to pay (net of aid). Worse, such individuals may forgo attendance altogether out of fear that such a “squeeze” may prevent them from completing a degree. In some ways, an incomplete degree is the ultimate hardship. Those forced out by financial challenges have probably gone into debt for their initial year(s) and paid the opportunity cost of lost wages, but do not reap the benefits of a degree, which might help them recover those costs.

Cohort fees, however, do little to assist those for whom even the first-year costs are unbearable. They mitigate, but do not resolve the accessibility barrier of tuition, and even that mitigation is focused rather narrowly on the range of incomes where initial tuition levels are affordable but subsequent levels might not be. Those above this level receive minimal benefit; those below receive none. Potential negative consequences of cohort fees include an overall increase in tuition levels to balance the risk to the institution of rising costs during a cohort's attendance. The fixing of fees charged but not costs paid by the institution at time of entrance would put upward pressure on those fees to avoid potential fiscal deterioration during a time of high inflation. [66]

Finally, cohort fees in and of themselves still result in the same overall cost and the same payment structure as the current system. They mitigate a small amount of uncertainty, but do not protect students from the risks of loan default or insufficient funds. We believe, therefore, that cohort fees deserve consideration, but they do not solve the core problem of financial accessibility.

9.1.6.2 Graduated Fees

A graduated fee scheme approaches risk in the opposite manner. Instead of fees being fixed at a flat rate for the full period of attendance, they are artificially lowered for the first year or two. This is intended to lower the barrier of attendance for those who might be deterred by initial costs. Those who are unable to continue, or who decide that university is “not for them,” invest fewer resources in those years and thus incur a lower level of risk.

Of course, as a balance to these lower initial fees, third- and/or fourth-year tuitions will necessarily increase to compensate. Fees charged to an individual over a course of study will therefore rise much more sharply than they do now, as inflationary or systemic increases are layered on top of a rising scale of built-in graduated increases. This can be expected to have a number of negative side effects. Some are described above, as problems that cohort fees propose to remedy (these two fee schemes are in some sense mirror images). Perhaps more disturbing, especially for an institution like ours that is proud of its exemplary student retention rate, is that the sharper fee increases would motivate more students to drop out. This effect has, in fact, been documented. [67]

As noted above, perhaps even more important than attracting and assuring attendance of qualified students is our obligation to retain them in the system, to avoid the waste of an uncompleted program. Measures that encourage dropping out must be approached very carefully. [68]

Nevertheless, both cohort fees and graduated fees represent policies that need not require systemic reform. Deferred tuition relies on integration with the taxation system which only government participation can provide. Individual institutions can implement and have implemented modified fee schedules on their own initiative and responsibility. There are, of course, issues to work out with transfer students (especially how an institution avoids effectively subsidizing its competitors if students enjoy low, graduated fees for a few years, then transfer elsewhere to avoid the later-year increases).

9.2 Alternative Financial Remedies

Short of the overhaul represented by universal deferred tuition, what sort of systemic changes might address the problems of economic accessibility? Section 6.6 lists numerous ways in which the existing OSAP/CSL/bursary financial assistance system could be improved. We have observed that many of these measures at the systemic level become moot if tuition is restructured as proposed above. Inequities and inefficiencies in the student loan system are no longer at issue when the lending of money for tuition is redefined and integrated into the taxation system.

All of these recommendations represent concrete actions that can be taken now , either before any larger systemic reform is attempted or while it is being considered, or even in place of such synoptic reform. The dysfunctionality of our current provincial approach to financial aid is widely acknowledged; the suggested reforms range from mitigation to amelioration to actual resolution of some issues. We recommend that the University immediately begin considering the changes over which it has control, and advocate for the adoption of those that require systemic change.

Of course, the government always has the option of significantly increasing the proportion of university education costs it pays on the behalf of students. Such a choice could manifest in either of two ways. Restoring and increasing the level of operating grants to universities faster than the rise of real educational costs could be used to bring tuition down; this would simply reverse the recent trend of falling grants leading to rising tuitions. Alternatively, the government could allow tuition to remain at current levels but transfer more funding directly to students themselves to offset a greater proportion of their costs. This might occur via expanded grant programs, tax credits or other means.

The Task Force is not particularly optimistic about this possibility. While there have been promises to increase funding commitments to universities to make up for quality degradation caused by decades of budget cuts, there does not seem to be the same political willingness to devote funds to the offsetting of individual costs. To put it another way, there is more public support for giving our university students a better education and less support for giving them a cheaper one.

9.2.1 Fee Differentiation

One area where Guelph could act on its own to enhance revenue was discussed in Section 5.2.2 . By not implementing any significant differentiation of fees, the University effectively passes up some $10 million in revenue per year. [69] To put this into perspective, this amount of forgone revenue is the equivalent of over 100 new faculty positions or a 50% increase in available student financial aid dollars. In the past fiscal year, unexpected shortfalls in operating grants from the government of “only” $3 million forced the University to adopt emergency cost containment measures including a voluntary retirement program and restrictions on capital investment. Even partial differentiation—less extreme than that practised by some other universities—would make additional resources available to spend on quality enhancements.

The Task Force is not here suggesting that Guelph overturn its policy of resisting differentiation, but only recommends that this choice be once again critically analyzed (as it has been periodically in the past). The funding environment for the University has deteriorated and become more uncertain since this strategy of non-differentiation was selected. This choice has to some extent become an ingrained part of our culture, but it comes at a cost—a cost that we have not presented to the community in a precise way. We should be making that choice transparently, not through organizational or cultural inertia but with full acknowledgment of the costs and benefits. Choosing not to differentiate may mean that, in the future, to maintain adequate revenue, we will have to consider larger across-the-board tuition increases. To that end, we should reopen the dialogue on the full pros and cons of fee differentiation.

9.3 Group Barriers

Whereas we have advocated systemic revolution in financial matters, to address group barriers our primary message is one of incremental institutional evolution. Risk serves as a keystone for economic barriers: remove the risk, and the barriers drop significantly. There is no equivalent keystone for group barriers, just a series of difficult and interlinked issues that hinder access. Some of these become visible only when others are overcome.

Compared with the reports on financial issues, section 8 contains a smaller number of higher-level recommendations. Many of these require more targeted or more comprehensive study of the barriers and challenges to ensure that remediative efforts are effective and properly oriented. Overall, they can be summarized as exhortations toward continued self-assessment and improvement of existing efforts on behalf of disadvantaged groups, and toward creative thinking about further means of lowering the maze of access barriers incrementally. We are making headway and, in many respects, are doing quite well. For example, we are generally seen to be a leader in the accommodation of learning disabilities. Still, there are few areas where further improvement, and a commitment to ongoing reassessment and improvement, could not be made.

Our commitment to and efforts toward enhanced accessibility should not end at the borders of the campus, with the admissions decision. The importance of diversity should be evident in all aspects of University community life, and we should endeavour to make the curriculum itself embody the values of inclusion, tolerance and open-mindedness that are so important. Policies and administrative procedures at all levels should be sensitive to accessibility and diversity effects and concerns.

9.4 Assessment and Outreach

The entanglement between group and assessment accessibility barriers should be evident from the discussions in Section 8 . The designation of certain applicants as “qualified” or not is inherently a process of “discrimination” (to use a word that can have both positive and negative connotations). Social factors can affect performance on measures of “quality,” and without careful design, assessment procedures can easily mismeasure applicants, to the systematic detriment of certain groups.

We have characterized our recommended deferred tuition scheme as a “positive” approach that emphasizes facilitating the achievement of an education over the risks that can deter participation. Similarly, we embrace the notion of developmental strategies for addressing both social and assessment barriers. Energetic development efforts by the University of Guelph and its sister institutions (and contributions from the provincial education systems) can be considered successful even in cases where the “developed” students end up choosing not to attend university, if those students have been motivated to better achievements. While we must inevitably believe that we serve society best through the students we educate to graduation, a university must also be able to impart its social benefits outside the campus walls and buildings. Developmental efforts represent a means to increase our contribution to the community and in turn reap the yield of higher-quality, more enthusiastic prospective university place-seekers—a win-win scenario.

A developmental approach explicitly acknowledges the integration of post-secondary education with the levels that precede it. An individual's success at university is rooted in years of schooling that not only prepare him or her academically for the scope and rigour of university work but also inculcate a positive attitude toward learning. Poor preparation and the slow starvation of the hunger for knowledge are among the most pernicious of access barriers because they work to block the very desire to pursue university education. As a learner-centred university, we should naturally apply ourselves to the task of helping to find, encourage and develop those potential learners even before they officially become our students. Outreach programs, in co-operation with secondary school guidance offices (and perhaps even primary-level programs) are excellent ways to bind the University and its surrounding communities together in a shared commitment to improved accessibility.

We acknowledge that our geographic and demographic context in some ways constrains our approach to developmental activism. The City of Guelph does not have the sort of severely challenged inner-city environment where access barriers can be most pervasive and intransigent. It may be unrealistic to expect University members to invest extensive effort in addressing problems and situations that are not prevalent in the local community. On the other hand, our various campuses give us essentially three different social contexts from which any outreach programs can be based. We should take advantage of this flexibility where possible and share resources and ideas. And we should recognize that our history and our presence in the rural environment—especially as embodied by the regional campuses—obliges us to pay particular attention to the challenges that face rural residents and communities.

9.4.1 Comprehensive Admissions

In terms of specific recommendations, our experience in using the Student Profile Forms suggests that an enhanced mechanism to effectively to elicit more inclusive notions of qualification is warranted. Demonstrated academic performance—as measured by secondary school grades—is a key measure of suitability for university, but grades are a rather narrow way to quantify a whole person. Driven, organized, reductionist personalities often do very well on exams and in class rankings. Other individuals seem almost to have a specific weakness for this type of assessment, yet may have characteristics, experiences, knowledge and perspectives that could contribute a great deal to the mutual educational process that occurs within the University community. Extending the scope and nature of the input—including possibly essays, portfolios, personal references, even interviews—would allow latent individual strengths and characteristics to be revealed.

The drawback of additional emphasis on intangibles such as the SPFs is that they are so much less efficient than numbers as indicators. Grade point cut-offs can be calculated and implemented straightforwardly and efficiently by computer. Holistic assessment of individuals demands the involvement of more assessors and significant amounts of time. How much additional funding—time and effort must be paid for—can we afford to invest in our admissions process? And yet the potential benefits are great.

We believe it is time to consider engaging additional “helpers” in the process of admissions assessment. Alumni, retired and current faculty and others in the community might well be willing to help read through an expanded set of SPFs in the interest of helping the University to locate the “hidden gems” among the applicants who submit profiles. The University community is to a great extent self-sustaining, in that it depends on the goodwill of its members, and their mutual interest in maintaining and enhancing a vibrant intellectual commons. We should not be afraid to exploit that goodwill and put it to use in the selection of new candidates for membership.

9.4.2 Open Learning

The University community is also no longer restricted to the physical campuses of the University. Open Learning methods and technologies allow the University to engage and serve learners who might otherwise find it difficult or impossible to pursue their studies. Geography is an access barrier that distance education techniques were originally intended to surmount. With living costs representing such a significant part of students' total costs, modes of instruction that do not require relocation to Guelph can also help address economic access barriers, or make commuting to Guelph more feasible as an option. Open Learning can also be an important tool in a developmental admissions strategy: those who might not initially meet regular admissions qualifications—whether due to the many systemic effects discussed above or otherwise—could access remedial or enrichment material and courses through Open Learning, and thereby increase their chances of success.

Guelph's extensive experience with Open Learning is a natural resource upon which efforts to improve accessibility can call. It is clear from the foregoing discussion that outreach and accessibility are closely linked. Open Learning has in fact been working to enhance accessibility to the University (as have the equivalent units at other institutions). These efforts and capabilities should be more explicitly integrated into any more comprehensive accessibility strategy.

10 Conclusion

With this report, the Presidential Task Force on Accessibility concludes its efforts. Our goals have been to stimulate discussion of accessibility in all its aspects both on and off campus; to develop action proposals to address inequities, barriers and other issues; and to identify areas that require or would benefit from further study or monitoring. We pass these results on to the President, the University of Guelph community, and all others with an interest in accessibility. We hope the Rae Panel will find this report useful as input to its review of the Ontario university system, and would particularly like to encourage that body to consider accessibility as more than just a financial issue.

The Task Force wishes to thank all those who contributed to our work and who participated in our deliberations, studies and surveys. Your assistance has been greatly appreciated. We look forward to continuing this discussion and to helping in efforts to refine and merge the tactical and strategic recommendations we have made into comprehensive action plans for Guelph and the university system. Maintaining and enhancing accessibility in a university system and its member institutions is a complex but crucially important task. In an increasingly knowledge-based society, we must ensure that the benefits of university education remain available to all qualified individuals, because it is through those individuals and their participation that the University hopes to achieve its academic mission of contributing to society. We are confident that the University of Guelph can continue to be a leader in these endeavours.

11 Summary of Recommendations

11.1 Section 6 : Student Debt and Financial Assistance

Strategic/Systemic Recommendations:

1. There is clearly a gap between funding available and funding needed. The provincial government should restore funding to levels that cover the actual costs of education. Both levels of government ought to develop a principled approach to post-secondary education that transparently establishes a rationale for the relative apportionment of student aid in the form of loans versus grants.

2. Providing front-end grants instead of back-end loan forgiveness could be a means of increasing lower- and middle-income group participation. The Canadian Millennium Foundation could work with the provinces and operate as a front-end grants agency

3. A review of needs-based scholarship funding should be undertaken. At a minimum, the Ontario government should restore needs-based grants to their levels prior to the establishment of the Millennium Foundation

Recommendations for OSAP:

4. OSAP's assumed parental contribution levels need to be reviewed and revised to reflect financial realities. Better assessment criteria that more accurately account for variation in family finances are also necessary. The current method of determining parent-child relationships is onerous.

5. The interface between social assistance and OSAP needs to be reviewed and harmonized so that students with children can afford to attend university.

6. Many students use OSAP to cover costs of living. OSAP criteria need more flexibility to account for medical, psychological, and compassionate circumstances, as well as accurately reflect differences in the cost of living.

7. Both the provincial and University work study programs are tied to OSAP eligibility. The University's efforts to relax these requirements are a step in the right direction, which needs to be reflected provincially, so that middle income students who do not qualify for OSAP can still access required aid.

8. The role of collection agencies in the OSAP and CSL programs needs to be examined. Information on what percentage of loans gets turned over and when could be useful in examining default rates and assist in the comprehensive discussion on student debt suggested previously

9. OSAP should consider extending the six-month grace period on charging interest to twelve months, in order to more realistically reflect hiring patterns and graduation dates.

Recommendations for the University of Guelph:

10. The University should create financial incentives in the form of scholarships and bursaries to encourage attendance from first generation university students

11. The University should implement needs-based bursaries for residence as a means to diversify the current demographic and to provide an incentive for attendance

12. Provide SFS the financial resources to undertake initiatives such as: more comprehensive debt counselling service, education and promotion of the programs that are in existence, exit counselling, and online interactive processes that will allow students to search for awards that fit their profile and apply for these awards on-line, would improve the speed and efficiency of service delivery

Part-Time Students:

13. Interest payment relief, increased loan limits, and increased access to grants need to occur to ensure part time students are not disadvantaged.

14. As not all students can study full time or are supported by a parent/guardian, a review of funding for part-time students should be undertaken and a new program developed that is flexible and better serves their needs

15. Part time students could apply using the regular OSAP program but prorate costs based on course load and the personal financial situation

11.2 Section 7 : Tuition Fees and Funding Mechanisms

16. The University should make a commitment to the Principles for Cost Sharing outlined above, and encourage the government to acknowledge them as guidelines for the funding of education. To reiterate:

· Post-secondary education costs should be subsidized for all students, regardless of financial background.

· The public share of post-secondary education costs in Ontario is at the minimum level that is acceptable from a social perspective.

· Students from lower-income families should receive a larger subsidy.

17. The University should advocate for the establishment of a Universal Deferred Tuition plan. This will require cooperation between federal and provincial levels of government.

18. This will require a feasibility study of Universal Deferred Tuition, incorporating more detailed costing and scoping, and comparative analysis of related plans in other national systems, to be conducted by the government in cooperation with university, college and student groups.

11.3 Section 8.1 : Students with Disabilities

Actions to be taken outside the University of Guelph:

19. The University administration should continue to advocate merger of disability-related Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) funding envelopes, where possible, to increase flexibility and simplify reporting. To address past delays, funds from the Print-Alternate Materials envelope should be distributed directly to colleges and universities for their use in the preparation of these materials.

20. The University administration should advocate that MTCU continue funding the enhanced accommodation of students with learning disabilities or ADHD created recently with Learning Opportunities Task Force funding and extend that funding for research and program development for other groups, especially whose with hearing or psychological disabilities.

21. The University administration should advocate that full-time study not be an eligibility criterion for students with disabilities who are candidates for federally and/or provincially funded scholarship, grant, bursary and loan programs.

22. The Bursary for Students with Disabilities is necessary for students with disabilities to access an educational experience comparable with that of their peers. The duty to accommodate these students is not linked to their (or their family's) income. The requirement that the bursary be linked to OSAP eligibility is thus too restrictive, and the University administration should advocate that it be relaxed.

Recommendations for actions to be taken within the University of Guelph:

23. While improving the accessibility of the University of Guelph for students with disabilities, the University has created multiple entities with overlapping mandates (see Administrative Framework for Accommodation). This framework should be reviewed and revised as necessary to ensure that future efforts will be as effective as possible.

24. Since university admission is highly competitive, some qualified applicants (with and without disabilities) currently fail to be accepted. Registrarial Services should designate 20 places per year for students with disabilities who have documented the impact of disability-specific barriers on their prior academic success (as assessed by CSD staff) but who have not been admitted on the basis of other submitted documentation (their grades and Student Profile Form).

25. The Senate Committee on Awards should:

  • recommend revised wording for the Senate Statement of Intent Concerning the Education of Students With Disabilities, eliminating references to “disabled students” and “handicapping disabilities”.
  • work with College Awards Committees to make new awards available to full- and part-time students as a matter of University policy. (The Senate Committee has recorded the need to request that full time study not be an eligibility criterion for new awards.)
  • work with Alumni Affairs and Development and College Awards Committees to create additional awards designated for students with disabilities.

26. Student Affairs should:

  • continue efforts to distribute newly accessible residence rooms as widely as possible on campus.
  • support efforts by the City of Guelph to improve transportation access for students, staff and faculty with disabilities.

27. Teaching Support Services should continue to offer opportunities for teachers to learn and implement Universal Instructional Design principles. The University administration should work with faculty and staff to develop an institutional policy regarding the application of universal design principles in courses and campus services.

28. Without compromising other academic objectives, departments, instructors, purchasing agents and the Bookstore should:

  • use course-related print materials that are also available in electronic format.
  • recommend textbooks that are available in alternate formats (e.g. PDF).
  • ensure that textbooks have been selected two months before the first day of class so that students with print disabilities can get the required texts in an appropriate format as each semester begins.
  • ensure that completed course outlines are available one month prior to the first day of class, that they include exam dates and formats, and that they specify assigned readings available through Library Reserve or CoursePaks.
  • accept only clear, unmarked copies of print material as bases for CoursePak production.

29. The Library should:

  • undertake creation of an electronic browser so that students who are unable to physically browse the University's print collections can do so electronically. This will also enhance access by all users to the TUG library collections, which are geographically dispersed.
  • as space becomes available due to conversion from print to electronic collections, arrange book and journal holdings to facilitate browsing by students, staff and faculty with disabilities.

30. Physical Resources should:

  • formulate a policy on physical accessibility, more clearly stating the University's commitment to consider accessibility in all its activities.
  • estimate the cost of retrofitting University facilities for physical accessibility, and Alumni Affairs and Development should create and encourage donors to support a corresponding Accessibility Fund .

31. The Dean of Graduate Studies should create a mechanism for review and implementation of the recommendations of the AGAPE Committee, as appropriate at the University of Guelph.

11.4 Section 8.2 : Aboriginal Canadians and Visible Minorities

32. Work with stakeholders including Statistics Canada to establish consistent data sources and benchmarks that facilitate the measurement of progress in improving access for aboriginal and visible minority students.

33. Engage in discussions with Ontario's various aboriginal groups to find creative ways, whether through the establishment of an access program or through the development of aboriginal-specific programs, to reach the aboriginal population and encourage their participation in post-secondary education.

34. Review current practices employed by other universities to develop the academic skills and knowledge of aboriginal and visible minority students .

35. Examine how well the University supports and encourages the personal and academic success of aboriginal and visible minority students enrolled at the Guelph.

36. Develop and implement a set of programs by the University that will enhance accessibility by generating a student body that is not only educationally well prepared to graduate but also representative of Canada's cultural, ethnic, geographic and socio-economic mosaic.

11.5 Section 8.3 : Graduate, Mature and International Students

37. Many graduate students enter graduate studies with a significant debt load. Through scholarships, assistantships and bursaries the University must endeavour to ensure that graduate students do not add to their debt during graduate studies.

38. Despite our strategic focus on internationalism, the number of international students at Guelph remains low. The University should devise a better strategy to raise its profile and recruit more students from around the world. International students bring different perspectives to our campus. Canadian students benefit tremendously from learning with international students. And Ontario students certainly benefit by going to programs in other countries, e.g., the TEACH program. The University should consider launching programs specific to the academic needs of students from other countries.

39. Information on sources of funding for students considering graduate studies could be enhanced. The information package should also include child-care, housing and community material.

40. International students should be allowed to work off campus. A pilot program similar to the one in Manitoba should be launched collaboratively with the Canadian and Ontario governments and the universities in Ontario. The University of Guelph can be the leader to make this happen.

41. The guaranteed minimum stipend program is an important step forward and the University should explore the feasibility of extending it to all graduate students. This will enable them to plan for the full cost of their programs.

42. Special attention should be paid to the information available to mature students. Since mature students have been out of school for at least two years, the Learning Commons should provide guidance and tips on studying, taking exams and writing papers.

43. High-quality child care is a major concern of graduate students with children. The University must ensure that there are enough spots available.

44. The University should implement programs to help facilitate networking of graduate students with families. Vuk has suggested:

  • a family night at the Athletic Centre and
  • programs specifically for children of graduate students.

Programs such as this would be particularly helpful for international students with families.

45. Faculty supervising graduate students with families should be encouraged to make appropriate accommodations.

46. Faculty and staff must be cognizant of possible cultural differences when advising international students. This is particularly important when dealing with international graduate students who will work directly with faculty advisors over a long period.

11.6 Section 8.4 : First-Generation University Students

47. The Office of Alumni Affairs and Development should explore the possibility of awards targeted toward first-generation university students.

48. Student Affairs, the Learning Commons, and other units should be encouraged to develop outreach programs that draw members of the community to the campus, thereby enhancing the perception of the University as an open and accessible institution. These programs should involve the participation of local children at both primary and secondary levels.

49. The Council on Undergraduate Academic Advising should ensure that appropriate support programs are in place for the needs of first-generation students.

11.7 Section 8.5 : Admissions and Qualification

50. Invest in additional developmental linkages and programs with secondary schools and community organizations. This effort can simultaneously address the need for the University of Guelph to take a more active role in inspiring and enhancing the intellectual life and culture of the City of Guelph and its surrounding communities.

51. Recommend to the province that funding be restored and targeted so that the number of high school guidance counsellors can be significantly increased.

52. Develop and encourage programs that bring members of the University community together with guidance counsellors to foster cooperative relationships for the purpose of mentoring students and providing academic support.

53. Renew the attempt to open a dialogue and conduct focus groups with a wider sample of guidance counsellors, in order to generalize and enhance the accuracy of the impressions documented and discussed in Section 4 . Consider organizing this effort in cooperation with Guelph-Humber.

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[1] Free speech is not absolute because there are types of speech that on balance endanger the rights of others—shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre is the classic example. But speech is a universal right because free societies do not limit who can speak or apply different restrictions or levels of freedom to different citizens.

[2] That some choose to opt out of these benefits by attending private schools is irrelevant to this argument. More precisely, private education is a separate topic that this report will not open, except to acknowledge a consensus opinion against the intrusion of private university-level institutions into our system.

[3] This is one area where engaging resources from Guelph-Humber would greatly facilitate gathering more informative data for future study (for both campuses). Guelph-Humber draws a much greater proportion of students from the GTA and has a correspondingly higher profile.

[4] One challenge to interpreting this comparison at face value is the free-ranging definition of ‘university' in different countries, which may or may not include technical institutions or others that do not grant what would be considered equivalent to at least a bachelor's degree in Canada.

[5] This overall trend has notably not applied to certain disciplines such as science and engineering, in which women remain significantly under-represented. At Guelph, the WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) Chair is intended to help highlight and address this imbalance. In addition, there are specific programs designed to encourage girl's interests in science and engineering, such as Creative Encounters and S@GE.

[6] Non-cognitive skills include the ability to pay attention, to work with others, to manage time and organize one's work and other capabilities that are valuable in educational settings.

[7] Evidence suggests that while girls outperform boys in reading and writing, boys outperform girls in mathematics and science. (Sommers, 2000)

[8] Not adjusted for inflation.

[9] These tables show only primary competitors; “Rank” represents overall rank in Ontario, from lowest to highest fees; “%” represents percent divergence from Guelph's figure. Table 4.2 presents slightly different figures than Table 4.1 (arts and science programs versus average of all programs).

[10] To measure the total cost of education, you must also calculate the income lost by not working. These costs can be substantial. A recent study by the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation estimates forgone income to be almost twice as much as direct educational costs.

[11] Telford, Cartwright, Prasil and Shimmons, 2003.

[12] University of Guelph, Incoming Student Survey 2003.

[13] Acumen Research, 2003.

[14] Frenette, 2003.

[15] Three primarily undergraduate institutions have also resisted differentiation: Brock, Wilfrid Laurier and Trent.

[16] See the Interim Report for some inferences based on the pre-existing data, as well as some discussion of its methodological problems.

[17] The full survey is located at http://www.housing.uoguelph.ca/cgi-bin/rws3.cgi?FORM=gsdsf

[18] National Graduates Survey, 2000.

[19] Acumen Research, 2003.

[20] Only one other survey, Making Ends Meet (2003), provides any information on this issue. However, the Making Ends Meet survey did not focus only debt levels of students at graduation. The results of that study are unfortunately not directly comparable to ours.

[21] Corak, Lipps and Zhao, 2003. “Family Income and Post-Secondary Participation.” Statistics Canada.

[22] The maximum for full-time students who are married or sole-support parents is $16,500 per year at the University of Guelph.

[23] EKOS study (2003).

[24] http://www.boursesmillenaire.ca/en/foundation

[25] The Ontario Government mandates that 30% of any increase to tuition fees be set aside for student financial aid.

[26] The Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund is a provincial program that (on a limited basis) provides matching funds to privately funded needs-based scholarships.

[27] StatsCan.

[28] Ekos Research Associates Inc., 2003. “Making Ends Meet: The 2001-2002 Student Financial Survey.” Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

[29] These social benefits include higher economic growth rates, higher levels of and more informed participation in the democratic process, better health rates, lower risks of criminal activity, and higher levels of civic participation.

[30] Rozada and Menendez (2002).

[31] The participation rate of students from families working in unskilled, partly skilled and skilled (manual) occupations is below 20%; this is less than half of that of students from families working in professional and non-manual occupations. In the 1960s, it was below 10%. “Widening Participation in Higher Education”, Department for Education and Skills, UK, 2003.

[32] CAUT-Decima Poll results reported in the CAUT Bulletin, December 2003.

[33] Note: many of the estimates we have seen are based on old data. A more recent study by Collins and Davies (2004) shows lower rates of return: net-of-tax private rate of return is 8.9% for men and 12.5% for women in 1998, using actual tuition fee levels right up to the 2003 level. By comparison, Vaillancourt and Bourdeau-Primeau (2002) found figures of 16% and 19% in 1991 and 17% and 20% in 1995. Stager (1996) found figures of 13.8% and 17.6% in 1991.

[34] We also support the Finnie et al (2004) recommendation that in calculating need a parental contribution be expected and that a secondary loan system, with interest, be made available to students with parents that refuse to contribute the expected amount.

[35] The use of the term “universal” is specifically intended to evoke the Canadian tradition of universality of access to publicly-funded programs. Deferral is not required, but is available to all participants equally.

[36] “Deferred Tuition” is unfortunately used also for a number of much-less-comprehensive plans offered by individual institutions around the world, especially in the U.S. These “deferred tuition” plans are merely short-term instalment schedules for the payment of tuition fees. It is with the Australian and British systems that this proposal should be compared, as a systemic, integrated approach to education financing.

[37] Note that charging an interest rate below the market rate results in a further subsidy to students and one that is higher the longer it takes to repay the loan. In addition, forgiving loans after 25 years results in a direct subsidy to the neediest of students.

[38] The Task Force has not addressed the question of whether there should be a cap on deferred tuition or whether it should cover the full cost of tuition regardless of the cost, which could be considerably more than $5000 per year in some degree programs in Ontario. Imposing a cap ensures that the interest-subsidy is roughly equal for all recipients of deferred tuition. However, it also makes the programs with differentiated fees less accessible for low-income students.

[39] Needs-testing would continue to be required to determine who is eligible for non-repayable grants but this would involve a substantially smaller number of applicants.

[40] A reasonable method of implementing our proposal for Deferred Tuition is to have the minimum payment collected through the income tax system. Individuals that wished to pay more than the minimum could do so directly, much like mortgage holders are often permitted to pay down a mortgage. The difference would be that there would be no limit on the amount of the outstanding balance that could be paid down.

[41] Relevant developments have included the Employment Equity Assessment (1991), Students with Disabilities: Policies and Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs (1994), Students with Disabilities: Policies and Guidelines for Graduate Programs (1995), Human Rights at the University of Guelph (2002), the Employment Equity Plan, 2003-2007 and the University of Guelph Accessibility Plan (2003, 2004)

[42] See http://www.tss.uoguelph.ca/projects/uid/uidcasestudies.html for details of key projects involved in this initiative.

[43] The mixture of primary and secondary data that will be employed in this section must be viewed with some caution. An amalgamation of different data sources always runs up against definitional ambiguities unless the categories that are employed are mutually exclusive. Because different surveys often measure variables in different ways or use different categorizations or groupings, it can be difficult to compare results accurately.

[44] The definition of Aboriginal people employed by Statistics Canada is as follows: “Aboriginal Identity refers to those persons who reported identifying with at least one Aboriginal group, i.e. North American Indian, Métis or Inuit. Also included are individuals who did not report an Aboriginal identity, but did report themselves as a Registered or Treaty Indian, and/or Band or First National Membership” (Statistics Canada, 2003a, 18).

[45] According to the 2001 Census, almost fifty per cent of the aboriginal population indicated that they lived in urban areas (Statistics Canada, 2003a, 10).

[46] It should be remembered that Status Indians are only a subset of the overall aboriginal population, and that demographic distribution of other subsets follows different patterns.

[47] An interesting example is the ENGAP program at the University of Manitoba, which offers academic, social, personal and financial support to aboriginal students who do not meet the Faculty of Engineering's regular entrance requirements (The Invisible Student Annual Conference, 2004). Manitoba has the second highest (after Ontario) graduation rate of aboriginal post-secondary students (Aboriginal Peoples and Post-Secondary Education 24).

[48] According to the 2001 Census, 48% of the aboriginal population, age 15 or older, had less than a high school graduation certificate. Ten per cent of aboriginals, age 15 or older, had a high school graduation certificate. By comparison the proportion of the non-aboriginal population, age 15 or older, in 2001, without a high school certificate was 31% and with a high school certificate was 14% (2001 Census, Statistics Canada).

[49] The unemployment rate for total aboriginal identity population, age 15 or older, was 19.1%. By comparison, the equivalent rate for the non-aboriginal population was only 7.1% (2001 Census, Statistics Canada).

[50] In fact, in 2001, the demand for financial support from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada exceeded their nearly 290 million dollar budget (Herrmann, 2001, 11).

[51] In 2000/2001, estimates from the Assembly of First Nations and presented in Aboriginal Peoples and Post-Secondary Education , suggests that approximately 8,475 aboriginal applicants did not receive funding for post-secondary education (R. A. Malatest, 2004, 21).

[52] Using the definition for visible minorities provided by the Employment Equity Act, visible minorities, for the 2001 Census, are “persons, other than Aboriginal Peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour. Under this definition, regulations specify the following groups as visible minorities: Chinese, South Asians, Blacks, Arabs, West Asians, Filipinos, Southeast Asians, Latin Americans, Japanese, Koreans, and other visible minority groups, such as Pacific Islanders” (Statistics Canada, Canada's Ethnocultural Portrait 38).

[53] The Steps to University Programme was inspired by a similar collaboration between San Francisco State University and high schools in the Bay area.

[54] http://www.housing.uoguelph.ca/cgi-bin/rws3.cgi?FORM=access

[55] There is a fee differential between domestic and international students. See Table 5 . 2 Table 5 . 5 .

[56] See www.umanitoba.ca/student/ics/News/Off_Campus_Work_Permit_Pilot.htm

[57] Specifically, the father's attendance is even more influential and predictive than the mother's. See Mata (1997).

[58] The Impostor Syndrome refers to the not uncommon anxiety reaction to a strange and challenging environment whereby a qualified individual imagines, in response to unexpected but relatively minor setbacks, that he or she does not really deserve to be present.

[59] While the articulation agreement between the Six Nations Polytechnic and the University of Guelph, McMaster University, Brock University, University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University lapsed in June 30, 2000, the University of Guelph continues to honour the Agreement. For the last two academic years, however, the University of Guelph has not had a student register at the University under the Agreement (Admission Services, 2004).

[60] In a recent report, Undergraduate Access to the University of California After the Elimination of Race-Conscious Policies , the University of California adopted the Dual Admission Program, which seeks to increase accessibility for low-income and educationally disadvantaged groups by ‘extending a guarantee of admission to students who graduate in the top 12.5 per cent of their high school class and successfully complete lower division work at a California community college' (University of California , 2003, 2).

[61] Although specific entrance requirements do vary across institutions, the following universities have a similar arrangement with Humber College: Bishop's University, McMaster University, University of New Brunswick, University of Western Ontario, and York University ” (Humber College, 2004).

[62] To increase accessibility for Aboriginal students, Queen's University “… will waive the 85% cut-off mark for 10 Aboriginal applicants to its undergraduate arts and science degree, starting with applications this fall” (Sokoloff, 2004).

[63] Similarly, a university's admission policies and procedures, in Texas, are conducted under the Top Ten Percent Law (Address on the State of the University 2004, The University of Texas at Austin). Texas “… guarantees that Texas high schools students, who rank in the top ten percent of their senior class, be admitted to any state institution of higher learning” (The University of Texas at Austin's experience with the “Top Ten Percent” Law). The University of Texas at Austin adopted a comprehensive and holistic approach to admissions, which includes, for example, awards, work experience, and writing skills, along with an increase in financial aid and targeted recruiting, to counteract the loss of affirmative action.

[64] Ipsos-Reid, Canadians' Attitudes Towards Financing Post-Secondary Education: Who Should Pay and How?

[65] Means-testing would still apply, on a smaller scale, for the non-repayable grants that we advocate in order to address non-tuition costs.

[66] Even if cohort fees are indexed to inflation, there remains an inherent risk. In recent years, Guelph's energy costs have far outpaced overall inflation and have become a significant drain on operating funding. Runaway cost increases like this are possible—probably inevitable—in the future. It is not clear that the proper way to mitigate risk on the part of students is to transfer it directly to the educational institution. In a sense, both are entities of limited financial means, that depend on the government for assistance in covering the costs of education.

[67] University of Minnesota Board of Regents, Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee, January 9, 1997. The board was actually proposing to re-flatten previously graduated fees after concluding that “it appears that backloading tuition rates is counterproductive to the graduation rate.”

[68] This argument applies primarily to undergraduate education. Typically, our systemic tolerance for non-completion of graduate programs is higher, and indeed, we expect a certain percentage of graduate students to be “weeded out” each year by the collision of expectations with performance. Whether this is a particularly moral way to organize the system is not at issue here.

[69] As estimated by Resource Planning and Analysis, this is the amount accruing to the University were it to increase fees in deregulated programs to match the Ontario provincial average.

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