On Campus

Not everyone can afford to live on campus

Financial planners suggest skipping student residences

TORONTO – Many university students recall the rambunctious pub nights, late-night cram sessions and laundry-strewn dorm rooms of campus life with nostalgic fondness. But this cultural rite of passage can be pricey.

Erin Andrews, 22, said living away from home — including three years in residence and one year in off-campus housing — has added almost $20,000 to her debt load.

But the fourth-year kineseology major at Memorial University in Newfoundland has no regrets.

“It was definitely worth it,” said Andrews, who describes the friends she met in residence as a “super big family.”

“If you like becoming independent and making new friends and want to have the full university experience, I think residence should definitely be included.”

However, financial planners caution against taking on unnecessary debt. Lise Andreana, a certified financial planner and the author of “No More Mac ‘n Cheese,” urges students to stay at home for university if it’s possible.

“You have to think in the long term,” said Andreana. “If you can avoid student debt, do it, because it’s going to take you decades, maybe, to pay that debt off once you graduate. And you may not get a job.”

However, 64 per cent of post-secondary students recently polled by RBC in June and July said they plan to live away from home, despite expecting the move to cost them more.

While a recent BMO poll suggests Canadian students expect to graduate with an average debt of $26,297.

When Jenelle Davies decided to go back to school after several years in the workforce, she opted for a local school so she could save money by living at home with her mom.

The Surrey, B.C., resident spends more than an hour a day commuting to and from Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C. She laments the fact that she can’t stay on campus past 9 p.m. — when her last bus departs — to study with classmates or go to the pub.

But the student loan money she receives isn’t enough to cover both tuition and housing, especially in B.C., Davies said.

“It would have been lovely to go to the University of British Columbia and stay in a dorm, but it just costs an astronomical amount of money that I couldn’t afford,” said the 26-year-old history major.

“You have to make concessions. Sometimes those concessions can impact the student experience.”

Mark Halpern, a certified financial planner and president of life insurance firm illnessprotection.com, suggests sitting down and creating a detailed budget to determine exactly how much moving out will cost.

The expenses can include housing, food, laundry, haircuts and other grooming costs, toiletries, new clothing and “fun money.”

If a student opts for off-campus housing instead of university residence, costs such as hydro and phone and Internet service also have to be accounted for.

“There’s no question that it’s much more economical to stay at home,” Halpern said. “You’re really piggybacking on the costs that parents are paying anyway.”

Jessica McCormick, the national chairwoman for the Canadian Federation of Students, said rising tuition fees are forcing a growing number of students to stay local in order to save on living expenses.

However, several Canadian universities said the demand for on-campus housing continues to grow.

Andrew Parr, the managing director of student housing at the University of British Columbia, said there are currently 3,800 students on the waiting list for a residence space. UBC has enough beds for more than 10,000 students in total.

Parr said the demand for residence spots is driven partly by an uptick in international students, most of whom don’t have the option of living with family.

However, living on campus offers perks beyond simple convenience. Doug Dawson, executive director of ancillary services at the University of Alberta, said students who live close to school also tend to get better grades.

“We continue to see much more demand for housing than we have available stock,” Dawson said.

“Students who live on campus typically have more support, more access to faculty and their peer groups, so they typically do better over time.”

In some cases, students may have no choice but to move out for school, McCormick said.

“Many students end up doing it because they need to take a particular program that’s only offered at a certain institution, or they get into one school and they don’t get into another,” she said.

“People have to make very difficult decisions, and unfortunately it often results in having to take on additional debt.”

Students should avoid taking on debt for programs that are unlikely to yield job prospects, Andreana said.

A report released by CIBC World Markets on Monday found that those who study specialized and professional fields such as medicine and law get a higher return on their education than those who major in humanities and social sciences.

“There’s no point having a degree in anthropology or theology or basket-weaving if there’s no work,” Andreana said.

“You want the degree, and the debt that you take on for that degree, to lead to a job that’s going to make that debt worthwhile.”

There are alternatives for young people who want to study in another city but can’t afford residence. McCormick suggests programs such as Home Share NL, which pairs students in Newfoundland with older adults who want some help maintaining their homes.

Halpern recommends applying for schools in cities where extended family members live.

“We live in a generation of entitlement,” Halpern said. “There’s the expectation that you go away to college or you go away to university and you do that trip to Europe to discover yourself.”

It’s important not to go into debt just to fulfil those feelings of entitlement, Halpern said.

“Sometimes you can’t do what you want to do. Sometimes you’ve got to wait. Sometimes you have to stay local.”

—Alexandra Posadzki

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