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Fear of Finance: Breaking down barriers to postsecondary education

A new HEQCO conference, Fear of Finance: Financial Literacy and Planning for Postsecondary Education (Nov. 3-4) will explore educational financial literacy — the knowledge of the costs, benefits and available aid associated with higher education.

And it’s not a moment too soon. Ontario leads the nation in postsecondary participation, but despite rising enrolments overall, the number of students from low-income families attending college or university has remained static over the last two decades, while the gap between the highest income quartile and the lowest income quartile has expanded.

And for those low-income students who do pursue higher education, approximately half are not taking advantage of government grants and loans for which they are eligible. The fact is that those who could most benefit from financial assistance are not using it.

Conference attendees will hear about the most current research on financial literacy as a barrier to PSE, and innovative and community-based approaches to improving financial literacy and planning for postsecondary. The conference will bring together educators, community organizers, social innovators, government policy makers, researchers and decision makers, and will conclude with a discussion session focusing on next steps toward improving financial literacy, especially for low-income students.

Since its founding in 2005, HEQCO has conducted significant research on postsecondary participation by under-represented students in Ontario. Particular attention has been paid to accessibility for low-income students, the policy and program challenges of student aid and tuition, and the complexity and interdependence of multiple barriers to participation (both financial and non-financial). As students tend to make decisions about higher education early in their lives, addressing access issues at point of entry to postsecondary (i.e., grade 12) is likely too late.

Current research tells us that low-income students tend to vastly overestimate the cost of postsecondary education while both low- and high-income youth underestimate the economic benefits of attending university. And knowledge about financial aid programs is lacking even among university students who hold student loans.  Yet there are few programs in Canada addressing educational financial literacy and targeted to low-income youth, who also find student aid application processes extremely complex and are more loan averse than their peers. Information available to high school students has largely proven ineffective in changing or affecting attitudes or behaviours. Ontario has recently taken an important step with its plans to include financial literacy in the elementary and secondary school curriculum. Hear more about the problem, and help shape possible solutions at Fear of Finance: Financial Literacy and Planning for Postsecondary Education.

Fear of Finance

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