BC: Canada's Worst Place for Students

Have you read any of our recent 'comparing provinces' articles and blogs about post-secondary education in Canada?

If so, you might already think you know how badly BC scores regarding access and affordability. But it's worse than you think.

It's so bad that the collapse of education access in BC could be made into a poster as to why students and their families should vote.

To me, politics is often a misleading and phony game. But that doesn't make the 'don't vote' argument any more than deluded 'magic thinking'. Yes, politicians will almost always disappoint us. But we have so little power as it. Disappointment doesn't make it logical to just throw our votes away.

I've seen the difference between one political party and another dramatically affect people's lives after a few years in power. 

Just look at BC's recent journey from educational 'First to Worst'. 

During the 1990s (until 2001) BC had an NDP government. It had generous grants for students and Canada's lowest tuition fees outside Quebec. It also had a host of other initiatives that helped students, including a loan forgiveness program for the disabled.

I'm not saying that X party brings Y result. I'm saying that political parties are not 'all the same'.

Under Party A (in this case, the NDP), BC was the best place in Canada to be a student.

Under Party B (in this case, the BC Liberals), BC is now the worst. 

These are the challenges for BC students after 13 straight years of BC Liberal governments. (The BC Liberal party is an unusual blend of Harper-affiliated Conservatives and federal Liberals):  

  • BC now has Canada's highest average student debt
  • BC by some measures has Canada's highest tuition rates
  • BC's tuition grants were completely cancelled
  • BC is tied for Canada's highest student loan interest rates
  • BC now has Canada's lowest university enrolment rate

It's probably even worse than we can see with this checklist. 

For example, even BC's low enrolment rate is swollen by people who travel there to study.

BC's beauty and mild climate are attractive. Many students travel there from foreign nations as well as from the rest of Canada.

Travel is a blessing, like multiculturalism and student exchange. But to see the full impact of party politics on BC students, you need to strip away this confounding factor from BC's enrolment rates.

The resulting data might distress local students. Not to mention their parents. After all, they've paid taxes all these years, thinking they were supporting education for their children.

Are they? Let's drill down further into the numbers. 

There's a sharp drop in access if you even compare with 2006, when the BC Liberals had already removed most of the education-access supports built by previous governments.  

In 2006, students from BC schools still made up 64% of first-year applicants to BC's largest university, UBC.

By 2013, this pool of BC students had fallen to 49%. 

Yes, less than half of UBC's first-year applicants are from the same province. And that's a red flag.

Worse, even this 49% number is swollen by a confounding factor.

There is a trend for BC high schools (public and private) to seek money by recruiting foreign students at high fees.

Whether this is good or bad is beside the point. What matters here is the impact on  our statistic. Because the 49% includes foreign students who apply from BC schools.

So we don't even have a measure of access for tax-paying BC families. Their numbers now must dip below the 49% from BC schools. 

It's not pretty. But the collapse in access to BC's higher education illustrates how fast and far standards can swing - from a simple change in government.

Please see my next blog for one conclusion. 

© Jeannine Mitchell 2014