Inflation and the student experience

With the rising cost of living, inflation is top of mind for many Canadians, especially students. How can students navigate the increasing costs while attending school and gaining their education?

Between rising tuition and personal expenses, students are particularly vulnerable to the effects of inflation, which is even more true for international students and students who live off-campus.

High inflation raises the costs of students’ necessities, such as housing, food and transportation, making it more important for students to spend less and earn more where possible.

How does inflation affect students?

Zhia Dupitas, a recent graduate in the international business management program at Niagara College Toronto (NCT), came to Canada from the Philippines in January 2022 and has already felt the impact of inflation.

“I remember during my first day in Canada, we were travelling a lot – to see all the beautiful spots here in Canada. After four months, we stopped travelling because of the gas. The price of gas wasn’t affordable anymore,” said Dupitas.

Just at the beginning of the year, the price of regular gasoline was 146.6 cents per litre. In June 2022, the cost of gas went up 60.6 cents for a peak of 207.2 cents per litre, when the annual inflation rate in Canada was at its highest of 8.1%.

Gas isn’t the only thing that has become more expensive. Food prices have also increased, forcing students to be more selective about how much they spend on nutrition.

“In terms of groceries, I remember when buying my food, I was carrying many bags, but right now, I only get two or three bags of groceries because it’s so expensive,” said Dupitas.

Estefania Jimenez Garcia, a Toronto School of Management (TSoM) student earning a certificate in business essentials co-op, came to Canada from Colombia and is also experiencing rising costs.

“It’s a lot of money I have to pay to buy the simplest things like coffee and blankets. Any normal thing I need for my personal use, job, internship or even clothes is expensive,” said Garcia.

How are schools financially supporting students?

Hanan El-Zoueiter, Director of Student Services at TSoM and NCT, shared some initiatives that their institutions are undertaking to alleviate some financial stress on students.

One is by educating students about housing and employment and teaching them how to protect themselves against fraud and being taken advantage of.

“We know they’re (international students) not very familiar with the Canadian setup and where to live, what’s the safest areas and where they can find affordable accommodation, and this is where we continuously try to build our database of offerings for them. We only offer. We do not push; we provide the resources for them to benefit from,” said El-Zoueiter.

Students can also earn scholarships, which they can get for their academic progress if they qualify, which will directly help them financially.

Another way students can get financial assistance is through payment plans offered by the institutions. More financially challenged students can divide the tuition cost into a payment plan that works for them.

Nutrition sessions offered by the schools are also another way to maximize what you can do with the food you have. “Students tend to try and save money when it comes to food because they have other expenses to cover, and there is no flexibility in expenses like rent, for example,” said El-Zoueiter.

What can students do to ease the impact of inflation?

Until recently, international students were limited to a 20-hour-per-week work limit off-campus, which determined how much money students could make. The Government of Canada lifted the 20-hour-per-week rule for international students starting November 15, 2022, until December 31, 2023, putting more money into the hands of students while also filling gaps in the job market.

“Having said that, they must always keep in mind that they must also maintain their academic status and have a work-study balance and not lose one for the other,” said El-Zoueiter.

Some programs at universities and colleges offer co-ops as a built-in requirement, which is an excellent way for students to be compensated for their work and gain relevant work experience while earning credits toward their studies.

GUS Canada institutions that offer co-op programs are TSoM, Canadian College of Technology and Business and Trebas Institute.

While working more is one way to ease the impact of inflation, understanding finances and how to budget money is another way students can benefit.

“The tool you need is to make a plan; you need to organize yourself. That’s what I would like to say to that kind of student. If you are struggling with your finances, you must organize yourself and know how your bank works,” said Garcia.

Making a budget is the first step towards more control over finances. Even if students aren’t perfect at keeping to their budget, seeing how much they spend on specific categories can give insight into spending habits and what needs to change. Today’s banking apps offer more resources and help students track their spending.

Dealing with financial pressures in college and university can be stressful. Making sure students keep an eye on budget, cutting expenses where they can and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are all ways to alleviate financial burdens on students.

Also, not all students are aware of the financial resources and initiatives that their institution is offering. By taking advantage of the school’s initiatives and using them to benefit students, they can maximize their savings and become more financially literate.

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