Canadian Higher Education is Different, Eh?

Barry Lenson

I just got back from five days in Canada, where I went to college some years back. While I was there, I ponied up $10 for the latest edition of MacLean Magazine’s latest Guide to Canadian Colleges and Universities. It lists dozens and dozens of colleges and universities that we Americans know very little about.

Many of those schools look about the same as their American counterparts. There are big, famous universities that educate tens of thousands of students – places like McGill and the University of Toronto. There are also universities like Queens, which look like a big American state school. Then there are lots of colleges that look just like smaller American liberal arts colleges.

But if you read the fine print in the MacLeans guide, you notice that the tuition costs for all these schools are laughably low by American standards. If you happen to live in the Province where a college is located, you can attend for just a few thousand dollars a year.

What if you are an American who wants to go to college in Canada? Well, things then get a lot more expensive. If you are a Yank who wants to get an MBA from McGill, for example, tuition will cost you $27,000 or so. That’s roughly half of what a similarly prestigious degree will cost you if you attend a top American business school. Expensive, yes. But half price is half price, right?

One evening during my stay in Canada, I happened to sit down for dinner with a group of Canadians – all professionals between the ages of 30 and 50. Here’s a quick rundown on who these people are . . .

  • One was a successful, sought-after architect who practices in British Columbia. His college? The University of Alberta, which cost just a few thousand dollars a year when he attended.
  • Another was a young woman who just got her law degree in London and got her first job in a law office there. Her college? Kings University College in Halifax, which set her family back about $5,000 a year when she went there.
  • Another was a sports therapist who works with Canada’s elite Olympic athletes. His university? Dalhousie in Halifax, which cost him about $3,000 a year because his family lived in Nova Scotia.

As you might have noticed from those brief bios, not a single one of these successful professionals attended an Ivy League college or a high-cost liberal arts college in New England. And guess what? They don’t care. They all went to good colleges, got their degrees, and are doing very well, thank you. (The fact that the Canadian government is not afraid to subsidize higher education helps a lot too.)

It made me realize that just a few feet from our northern border lies a whole country where most people think a lot differently about college than we do down here in the States. Maybe it is time for Americans, like our Canadian neighbors, to stop thinking about educational status and simply get the job of learning done.

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