Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An affordable college option for Minnesotans: Canada December 14, 2011

MY 17-YEAR-OLD BOUNDED down the stairs Tuesday morning, uncharacteristically cheerful. He’s not a morning person. I’ve learned that the less interaction with him any time before 10 a.m., the better.

So his upbeat attitude and engaging me in conversation before 8 a.m. surprised me.

While I don’t recall his exact words, they went something like this: “You know, Mom, how I sometimes listen to Minnesota Public Radio? Well, they were talking about colleges in Canada and reciprocity with Minnesota and how much cheaper it is to go to school there.”

I could see exactly where this was leading. He wanted to apply to a Canadian college.

However, I was in no mood to hear any of this. After months of attempting to persuade him to apply to shoe-in, affordable Minnesota, Wisconsin or Dakota colleges, I didn’t want him to pursue a dead-end. We’re getting to crunch time here on college apps. (He’s applied to four out-of-state colleges, three of them highly-competitive and totally unaffordable at $40K – $55K annually for tuition, room and board. My son, BTW, is academically-gifted and scored exceptionally well on his ACT test.)

I should have heard him out. But, instead, I spouted rather ridiculous responses like: “Your dad and I don’t even have passports.” And “Do you know how much it would cost to fly to and from a Canadian college?”

He slammed out the door on his way to high school classes without even a goodbye hug. I don’t blame him. I had failed as a mother to listen to my son.

Later Tuesday morning, I checked out the MPR news story, which you can read by clicking here. In summary, Minnesota and Canada, specifically the province of Manitoba, have had a tuition reciprocity agreement for 20 years. Who knew? Not me.

"Canada is closer than Colorado," my son told me.

Tuition at a Manitoban university, for example, will cost a Minnesota student around $4,000 annually. That’s less than tuition at a Minnesota community college, state-run university or the University of Minnesota, according to the MPR article.

The most recent enrollment statistics listed on the Minnesota Office of Higher Education website show 31 Minnesotans attending post secondary institutions in Canada during the 2009-2010 school year. Click here to check out information on that website.

Will my son head north across the border to the University of Winnipeg or one of six other Manitoban colleges?

I don’t know. But it’s certainly worth investigating as he considers his college options.

All of this brings me full circle to two questions raised in recent weeks by several friends:

  • Is it even worth going to college any more?
  • Does it matter where you attend college? One friend tells me her son, who went to a state-run South Dakota university, earns just as much as co-workers who graduated from more elite and expensive private colleges.

I’ve considered these same questions.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE on going to college? Is it worth the investment? Does attending a prestigious private college give you an employment advantage? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Please submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


8 Responses to “An affordable college option for Minnesotans: Canada”

  1. Amy Says:

    Hadn’t thought of Canada. Our son is a freshman at UW-Eau Claire, where he plans to spend two years getting all the basics in before transferring elsewhere for his major. It’s considerably less expensive than the UM-Minneapolis, which is where he’d rather go.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I doubt many Minnesota parents and students have considered Canada. In these times of ever-rising tuition and tight family budgets,it’s certainly worth a look. However, federal PELL grants cannot be used at a Canadian college if your student qualifies for those.

  2. Amy Says:

    I think it all depends on the degree one is going after. I was intending to be a Lutheran school teacher, so attending a state, public college would not have been a feasible choice, nor would have been attending private college outside of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod because I would then have to go back to receive a colloquy to be considered “official.” (But the second option would have been better than the first…still private school….)

    Now as far as whether or not college is needed anymore, I can see both sides of the coin. Having received a Bachelor’s degree, that is worthless because I didn’t complete my student teaching semester, I am not sure where my education landed me. The experiences that I had in college and things I learned are reasons why I took those four formable years of my life to really figure out who I was. If I knew then what I know now, I may have chosen a different school that was more affordable, but then I may not have had the opportunity to meet my husband! As I think about how I am going back to school now to receive an Associate’s degree in Medical Transcription, I do think this is a field that it is necessary to have some sort of degree. It is very competitive and knowledge is important. It is also important to be able to learn proper keyboarding techniques and have proof of the knowledge that I will have when I receive this degree. So did I waste four years of a Bachelor’s degree at a private college? Maybe. I would agree that my life lessons weren’t worth $80,000, maybe half that, but there is only going forward and growing from the past.

    I don’t know if that helped any, but a little bit of insight never hurt anyone!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for your insights, which are all worth considering.

      You are right to have that attitude of “moving forward” now rather than questioning past decisions.

  3. Great post. I had no idea about the reciprocity. As for college- good questions there. It is so crushingly expensive to attend college that I very much question the worth of it unless the student knows very well what they want to do. My sister Colleen intends to teach English, which is a practical and employable option. I knew that I didn’t want to teach in elementary, high school, or academic settings, and also that studying Great Books and the Arts wasn’t practical for me- so when I was kicked out of a tiny Catholic college I didn’t return. My best friend is a professor, albeit an adjunct, and we have lived and read and talked together for years, and I have pursued education. It’s so hard to make it in general these days that I can’t imagine trying to do it with 30 YEARS of paying hundreds of dollars each month for student loans, which most of my friends are doing. I think there should be more vocational options for school. Colleges are choked with kids who have no real desire to be there to learn. -kate

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yours are all excellent points, especially that telling last sentence.

      I believe, in today’s society, we have emphasized too much the need to attend college. A four-year college is not for everyone, nor should it be.

      I absolutely agree with your statement about vocational school style education. We need individuals who can work with their hands. My husband is an automotive machinist who works with his hands, as well as his brain, every single day to keep cars and trucks, etc., running. Yet, I don’t think there’s a single school in Minnesota where you can study to become an automotive machinist. His work is always in demand and he can’t keep up with the jobs coming in the door.

      I cannot imagine the debt load many college grads are carrying. Why are we doing this to ourselves?

      Thanks for your insightful input.

  4. Neil Says:

    Is college worth the investment?  YES!!!  A college degree opens doors in the job market that are not open to others.  If you look at the statistics, college grads typically earn a great deal more over their lifetime than their peers who did not go to college.  Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule…  However, your intelligent son is likely to be one of those who will reap a huge dividend from advanced education.
    In my opinion, private schools are highly overrated.  You pay a lot of extra money for a name brand.  There are a lot of well-respected public schools out there, and I’d say that their degree programs are on par with most of their private school counterparts.Once a person has been in the workforce for a couple of years, it becomes the work experience that says more to potential employers than where he went to school.  Yes, the degree is still the minimum requirement to be considered for the job, but the experience will weigh a lot more than what college he attended.Those Canadian schools are least worth a look.  They might provide a quality education at a bargain rate.  If nothing else, they’ve figured out how to keep the price of education reasonable!

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