MLAs hear how P.E.I. post-secondary students are feeling stretched over rising bills

Mohamed Ateeq, a first-year political science student at the University of Prince Edward Island, says he was hoping to focus solely on school this semester.

But his shrinking bank account drives him to seek employment.

“Having my summer job … kept me pretty stable financially over the summer,” he said. “But now that I’m about to start my summer job, I know for sure that the job market is tight in the winter. It’s definitely going to be more difficult.”

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Although he managed to find a job paying above minimum wage over the summer, he is not confident about the prospects for a part-time job for the remainder of the academic year. The financial burden is making his studies difficult, he said.

“It’s extra pressure that we don’t need as students at the moment. We have midterms and exams coming soon. And since we also do two jobs, if that’s not enough, I don’t know what we can do to make it better.”

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Ateeq isn’t the only one feeling the effects of rising costs this fall. Over the summer, the UPEI Student Union surveyed nearly 700 students on the impact of affordability concerns on their college and mental health. Almost half of those surveyed indicated that the cost and availability of housing in particular would affect their ability to pursue full-time study.

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Message delivered to MLAs

Student Union officials presented the poll results to MLAs at the Standing Committee on Education and Economic Growth on Tuesday afternoon. They highlighted the difficulties students are facing this year with rising housing costs and lack of availability.

“Some of them say they get very tired from the daily commute to school,” said Iyobosa Igbineweka, external vice president of the UPEI Student Union.

Representatives of the UPEI student union presented themselves to the Legislature Standing Committee on Education and Economic Growth on Tuesday. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“Some of them said they had to work more hours than they really had to… And some of them said that income has become a priority these days because of housing, rather than education [situation] in Charlotte Town.”

Student union president Adam MacKenzie said he was concerned the added financial pressure was affecting students’ mental health.

This year, 12 percent of survey participants said they had had suicidal thoughts, a slight increase from the previous year’s percentage.

“Every year we ask this question and hope the percentage goes down,” he said. “That’s an increase of one percent. So it just shows that it hasn’t gotten any better.”

Busy days at the food bank

Sister Susan Kidd, the chaplain at UPEI, said she sees firsthand the struggles the students face. She heads the campus board, which last week had its busiest day ever.

Sister Susan Kidd, UPEI’s chaplain, said the campus board she runs has never been busier. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“I’m not sure I want to win this award because I have the most needy students,” she said.

Kidd said that while retaining a job during the school year used to be optional for university students, it’s now almost a necessity for most.

“The stress is off the scale,” she said. “We’re trying to create an environment where they can focus on their academics. But if they are hungry they cannot do that.”

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