The true value of a University in Brampton (for students that is, at least one of us should focus on the students) 

I am so happy that Brampton is pursuing a University Partnership. It’s long overdue that we have a public University that serves graduating high school students directly. While “going away to school” was something I fondly remember, in hindsight, I really couldn’t afford it. In fact, if I could talk to 1992 me, we’d be having a long hard talk about being an electrician, a realtor, or going into sales, anything but being a lawyer. 

Does that sound strange? Go back and not be a lawyer? But that’s exactly what I mean. Let’s break it down. 

I come from modest beginnings, so had to pay my own way through school. OSAP was the only way I could make University work, and even then, I always worked part time through all 8 years of my schooling (not typical, admittedly).  I worked for group homes, temp agencies, I washed dishes, delivered KFC and pizza, was a short order cook, a research assistant, a computer lab supervisor and even some times I did more than one of those things at a time. It was a very busy time of life. 

All told, by the time I graduated, I had almost $80,000 in student debt, and was about to incur more to complete my apprenticeship (known as Articling), but I’ll ignore those costs as being unique to my circumstances and choices I made. 

In addition to the debt I incurred, I spent all my part time job earnings.  I could check my tax records, but from memory I would say I made and spent an average of $10,000 a year (before tax dollars, the government took a chunk of that money).  So let’s say that going to University cost me $80,000 in debt, plus $80,000 in out of pocket cash. 

A total of $160,000 spent to graduate. 

Let’s compare that to a college degree at Sheridan in Brampton.

Living at home would have saved me a lot of money. A bus pass is a fraction of rent after all.  And I would have been finished in three years, limiting my OSAP debt to $21,000. Let’s also assume that I would have worked less (no rent means freedom to work less shifts), but that I still would have wanted clothes, food, spending money and bus passes, so an average $8,000 a year. 

3 year total = $45,000 spent to graduate. 

Clearly, the cost to graduate college would have been far less than the cost of graduating with a law degree. But there is one more piece to the puzzle. On top of costing less to graduate, let’s also talk about opportunity costs. Specifically, the lost income in the years spent on school after I could have graduated with a college degree. 

Assuming I would have made an average of $30,000 a year in the early part of my career, again still living at home, I likely would have made $150,000 in the time I was still in school. So we have to add that lost income into the mix. So in total, I invested $310,000 (lost income plus money spent) to become a lawyer instead of whatever opportunity I may have pursued at Sheridan. In 2002 dollars, that was an entire house by the way. 

So yes, let us celebrate that Brampton has gone so far as to partner with Ryerson and Sheridan to submit a proposal. That’s exciting. But we don’t have a University yet. The proposal has not been accepted. Nor has the province awarded the university to either of the submitted bids, nor committed money to Brampton specifically (rather, we have a vague promise of money for either Brampton or Milton, depending), nor do we know who will come forward after the upcoming “invitation to submit a proposal” stage that comes next, and whether or not the dialogue portion that is to follow that will yield a viable model for actually delivering the programs the province is looking for. 

In other words: it ain’t over till the fat lady sings, and I don’t hear any singing. Brampton shouldn’t be popping the corks just yet.  

The stakes are high for Brampton students. Access to education is a multi-faceted problem, but the cost of going away to school can be prohibitive. Not everyone will incur the costs I did, I faced some unique challenges in my convoluted journey.  Still, while the numbers may change,  the dynamic is the same.  Tuition, rent, food, books, and the lost income of the extra time a university degree involves is significant. 

An option to stay at home and save on rent and food has a value that cannot be understated. I almost didn’t finish because of money problems. I didn’t do it on my own. I had the support of many friends and as much help as my family could provide. Not everyone can count on the luck I had though. And that is the true value of a University in Brampton. It shouldn’t come down to luck. There should be a viable local option. 

So forget the “Economic Impact study” on what a University means for local businesses. Forget what an “Urban Campus Concept” means for padding the resumes and furthering the aspirations of local politicos. Forget what this proposal means for the “Mayor’s Legacy” of finally bringing a University to town (oh hello Algoma, stay quiet so noone sees you sitting there, in Downtown Brampton, where you been for years). 

The real prize is letting kids like me get a university degree, to pursue their dreams, without having to sacrifice the cost an actual house to do it. It gives students a chance at a local option that reduces costs, allows continuity of part time and summer employment, continuity of career building networking (which also reduces “brain drain”) and provides stability for families who also rely on their children to contribute at home financially, medically or otherwise with family responsibilities.  

If this proposal doesn’t work out, the needs of local students won’t disappear. And even if it does work out, and we all hope it will, the needs of local students won’t be fully fulfilled either. We will still to nurture the relationship and Grow the facility from it’s 1,000 student infancy into a facility capable of serving our community’s real needs, in the thousands, plural. 

So to call back to the early 2000’s: Mission Not Accompished. We need to be awarded the University. We need it to be fully funded. We need it to grow and thrive and have the support of the community, local businesses and all levels of government; and most of all, we have to keep working for the students of Brampton: because win or lose the current round of government allocations, we are no where close to being done. Not by a long shot. 

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