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Student Potential

79% Of Students Believe Education Debt Is Debilitating


A survey of Canadian post-secondary students by Léger and education savings specialist Embark reveals 60 per cent of students have had to cut out necessities to make ends meet.

A new poll released by Embark, Canada’s education savings and planning company, reveals post-secondary students feel that higher education is indispensable, yet mounting financial anxieties are impacting their wellbeing and academic decisions.

The poll of post-secondary students across Canada found that 88 per cent believe that a post-secondary education can open doors for them, with 66 per cent of students believing it is hard to succeed in life without a post-secondary education. However, due to the current economic environment, students are pursuing education at the cost of both short-term necessities and long-term goals because they lack the necessary financial support. Thankfully, there are many things that students and parents can do to help alleviate the financial pitfalls of a post-secondary education.

Key Statistics:

  • Nearly three quarters (72%) of post-secondary students claim that it seems as though you need a post-secondary education for anything nowadays.
  • 75% of students stated that it is very hard to afford a post-secondary education.
  • 53% of students believe graduating with debt is part of the student experience, with 79% stating the amount of debt they take on during school can be debilitating.
  • Half of the students polled have taken on debt to pay for school (50%). On average, when students did take on debt, they believed they’d graduate with $26,773 of debt.
  • 77% of students surveyed found it very hard to afford everything they need, with 60% noting they have had to cut out certain necessities to make ends meet.
  • Nearly 1-in-3 students (30%) have considered dropping out of school because of money.

How Affordable is Post-Secondary Education?

A staggering 89 per cent of students believe getting a post-secondary education is expensive, with 3-in-4 (75%) stating that it is very hard to afford one. In the face of financial considerations, 55 per cent noted that money influenced their decision to go to a particular school or program and 79 per cent stated that the financial realities of a post-secondary education are overwhelming.

“Many Canadians may not realize that the cost of education often outpaces the cost of living. Particularly with today’s economic realities, saving enough money can be a daunting task,” said Andrew Lo, CEO and President of Embark. “However, this challenge can be a source of inspiration for both students and parents to take a proactive stance. Embark provides the necessary resources to help Canadians save for education costs and imparts financial literacy to the younger generation for their future success.”

How are Students Funding their Education?

With the average cost of a four-year university degree in 2022 starting at $96,004 for students in residence, or $48,074 for students living at home, taking out student loans has become the norm. In fact, over half (53%) of students believe that graduating with debt is part of the student experience, with exactly half surveyed expressing they’ve taken on debt to pay for school (50%). While student debt has become normalized, 79 per cent agree that the amount of debt that students take on can be debilitating. When students did take on debt, they believed on average that they would graduate with $26,773 of student debt, and believed it would take them nearly 4 years on average to pay off.

Many students also turn to their parents for financial assistance. Fifty-nine per cent of students surveyed have parents helping them pay for their education, stating they believe their parents would help them pay for 60 per cent of their education costs on average if they agreed to do so. This support is not taken for granted, with 72 per cent admitting their parents have done a lot to support them through post-secondary school and over 4-in-5 (81%) being forever grateful for what their parents have done for them. In fact, half (50%) of students believe they would not be able to afford their education without the support of their parents, with 37 per cent stating they would have to drop out otherwise.

Finally, 66 per cent of students have a part- or full-time job to help pay for their education, with 63 per cent working during the school year. However, 79 per cent said it is difficult to balance school and work at the same time.

How Does the Cost Impact Students?

Paired with the rising cost of living, over three quarters (77%) of students surveyed find it very hard to afford everything they need, with 60 per cent noting they have had to cut out certain necessities to make ends meet. Two-thirds (66%) express anxiety whenever looking at their bank account, leading over half (54%) to simply avoid thinking about debt and money altogether, exacerbating the problem.

The financial impact of post-secondary education extends into academic performance and aspirations as well. Eighty-three per cent of students said that the financial realities of being a student can affect academic performance, with 41 per cent noting that it has impacted their own grades. Nearly 1-in-3 students (30%) have considered dropping out of their post-secondary program because of money and 40 per cent have considered graduating early because of money. Half (50%) also feel like they are not able to switch programs because of how much it would cost.

Looking ahead to post-graduation, nearly half (47%) of students are worried that the debt will hinder their future goals and 57 per cent claim that student debt will make it harder to become financially independent from their parents and start their lives.

“Financial struggles do not exist in isolation. The mental burden can affect overall well-being and even academic performance. Moreover, such struggles can influence future career decisions, as students may feel restricted or unable to pursue their desired path due to financial constraints,” said Andrew Lo, President and CEO of Embark, “At Embark, we understand the challenges associated with financial struggles. We work with parents and students to help shoulder this burden and empower post-secondary students to focus on building the future they want.”

Click here to view national and provincial data related to the study.

How Can We Set Up Students for Success?

Save as much as you can, when you can: When asked, 68 per cent of students wish they saved more before going to school.

For students, talk to your parents early to see if they will help pay for your education and understand how much you will need. While it may not seem fun at the time, it will help in the long run to try and save on your own. In high school, try putting a portion of your part-time or summer job paycheque away as education savings. An automatic contribution can make it even simpler and will ensure a certain amount is put away regularly.

For parents, if you want to help your child pay for their education, plan out your savings as soon as possible. Even if it does not seem like you have a lot to save, the more time your money has to grow, the better. Setting up a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is a great way to do this, as you can get more money from the government when contributing to it.

Take time and talk to people about your plan, and what you want to do: 73 per cent of students wish they had more guidance when planning their post-secondary education.

Take time to truly think about what you want to do and talk to people about it. Talk to guidance counselors and experts to learn more about different career paths, whether that is university or a trade school. You can also try to ask someone who is in that field for firsthand insight.

Stay on-top of your finances: 63 per cent of students would like to improve their own finances, but do not know how.

While it may seem scary at first, the more active a role you take in building savings habits and enhance your financial literacy, the better. You will need these skills in life, no matter what path you take. Do not shy away from your bank account, embrace it.

If you are a parent, take the taboo out of talking about money. Speak with your children about financial literacy, and help them plan and save for the future. Embark has an online calculator that can show you estimates of how much school will cost, and how much you can save by simply plugging in the amount of time you have and how much you think you can save each month.

Written by Embark

Embark is Canada’s education savings and planning company. The organization aims to help families and students along their post-secondary journeys, giving them innovative tools and advice to take hold of their bright futures and succeed.