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As Canadian university tuition fees rise, more students stay home

With top high-school marks, Jenny Kines could have had her pick of universities. Dalhousie, Queen's, and the University of Western Ontario are just some of the institutions that offer programs in her chosen field of occupational therapy in Canada. But the Burnaby resident opted to study in her home province, heading to the University of British Columbia instead of across the country.

"I looked at other universities, but I couldn't imagine having to pay rent on top of my tuition," Kines says. "I'm lucky because I get along really well with my parents. They're more like my friends, so it's fun still living at home."

Like Kines, many young adults are making the same choice as tuition rates rise, trading the dorm for the house they grew up in.

In the United States, 47 percent of students whose families earn more than $100,000 are living at home while attending college compared with 37 percent in 2011 and 24 percent in 2010, according to a recent study by Sallie Mae, a financial services firm specializing in student loans, and Ipsos.

The percentage of families who eliminated college choices because of cost rose to the highest level--69 percent--in the five years since the company began its annual national report. Most families also adopted cost-savings strategies such as living at home (51 percent), getting a roommate (55 percent), and reducing spending by parents (50 percent) and students (66 percent).

Similar statistics don't exist for Canada, but 55 percent of Canadian parents agree that without government savings their child would not be able to pursue post-secondary studies at all, an Ipsos Reid poll for ABC Life Literacy Canada found.[2]

And across the board, 51 percent of Canadians aged 20 to 29 live at home compared with 31 percent in 1998 and 28 percent in 1986.[3]

For those scraping together enough funds to simply attend university, it's no wonder living at home is so appealing and practical.

Consider the costs of an academic year using Mount Royal University as an example.

Tuition fees for 2012/13 for a Bachelor's degree cost about $6,100, with books an additional $1,300. Add in anywhere from approximately $5,200 to $7,300 for rent or residence for those eight months compared to paying nothing at home and the savings are significant.

At the University of Toronto, residence fees vary and increase every year; throw in a meal plan and an approximate average is $10,000 per year.[4]

"The easiest way to cut down on your living expenses is to live at home with your parents," Mount Royal's site says. But that doesn't mean that those who stay put don't have to consider all their costs. "Even though you are living at home, you may still want to budget for things like cellphone bills, parking, food and entertainment. Have a discussion with your parents about what they will and won't pay for and be sure to budget for any shortfall."

Average full-time tuition fees in Canada are highest in Ontario (about $6,800 a year), New Brunswick ($5,900), and Nova Scotia ($5,800) and lowest in Manitoba ($3,600), Newfoundland ($2,600), and Quebec ($2,500).[5] (Even with fee increases that have been vehemently opposed by thousands of students in Quebec, tuition in there by 2016-17 will still be lower than that in seven other provinces.)[6]

"Going away for school can be a great experience, but the trade off is that it is much more expensive," according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. [7] "For most post-secondary students, money is tight. But remember that every dollar you save while you're in school is one less dollar that you'll owe in student debt when you graduate."

For all of the drastic shifts in the U.S., however, Canadian students might have already figured out that staying home for university makes more financial sense ages ago.

"Traditionally, from a Canadian perspective, Canadians have rarely acted the same way Americans do when it comes to going to college," says Greg Fergus, director of public affairs for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. "A lot more Canadians stay home and go to their local institution than Americans. If you're in Edmonton you're probably going to go to University of Alberta or one of the colleges. If you're in Vancouver you have a number of choices there. I grew up in Winnipeg and the normal thing to do was go somewhere local. The thinking just hasn't been if you grow up in Regina you're going to go to the University of Toronto. In the United States there's always been much more of the attitude of going away to college.

"It is getting more expensive, and some provinces are starting to charge for out-of-province students, so you can get hit with an additional fee," he adds. "It's more of a cultural tradition in Canada to go local."