A group of wide-eyed high school students trots behind a student ambassador as they get a tour of the Ryerson campus. The ambassador’s red coat guides them through a campus they one day may call home, if the OUAC applications they submitted a few months ago are approved. While visions of the friends they’ll meet, the drunken nights they’ll encounter, and the final exam they’ll end up cramming for the night before circle in their minds, one thing that may not seem as important right now is how much money they will have to spend on outside resources when completing their final thesis or project needed to get their hands on that precious degree they are vying for.
Post-secondary education in Ontario schools comes at a high cost. While students are continually faced with increasing tuition fees, many programs’ graduation requirements involve semester or year-long productions that not only put a strain on their social lives and sleeping habits, but take a toll on their wallets and credit cards as well. Students in Ryerson University’s faculty of communication and design (FCAD) programs are no stranger to these projects. Capstone courses find students producing fashion shows, short films, or documentaries, with little or no help from the school. And while applying and getting into these world-renowned programs may seem like an achievement on its own, students need to start thinking from the first time they step into the classroom, whether they’ll be able to afford funding their final-year projects.
According to Ryerson, FCAD program tuition costs range from $6,128 to $6,728. And while these prices don’t make FCAD the most expensive of faculties, in most programs, students add on hundreds – and in some cases, thousands – of dollars, to ensure final projects are created to meet industry standards. In radio and television arts, students have the opportunity to take part in practicum, pitching and producing their own ideas. In film studies, students have the opportunity to direct their own films for The Ryerson Film Festival, and in the school of fashion, design students present their final collections on The Runway of Mass Exodus, a student run fashion show. Communications students have the opportunity to show off their final theses at The Exhibit.
Rocco Barriuso wrapped up shooting his short film, For Dorian, in early February. The fourth-year student filmed, directed and co-produced a film that explores the sexual awakening of a father’s disabled son and the struggles he faces with the notion of letting him go. Renting a camera for a week alone cost him $2,000. And though a $2,000 grant from one of Canada’s oldest and largest providers of media equipment was presented to him, that was only enough to cover lighting costs for the film.
“The average thesis film costs between $12,000 and $20,000, which is very expensive, but you’re not required to direct a film,” he says.
Wil Noack is just in his third year of the RTA program, but he is already preparing for the spending he will have to do in his fourth-year practicum project by investing in a $2,000 camera. Though the school provides students with equipment that can be taken advantage of at any time, it’s not until third or fourth-year when special privileges are granted for specific equipment. Because of this, Noack claims he often finds himself renting equipment from outside sources, and invested in his camera. Money for the rentals, which he had been saving from working at part-time jobs, such as a movie theatre attendant at AMC Theatres in Whitby and freelancing, all come from his own pocket. While scholarships have been presented to him in the past, they go towards covering tuition, he says.
Grants for students in fourth-year programs are almost impossible to get. While scholarships do prove to be helpful in some cases, students are forced to look for money in other ways.
In many cases, this means fundraising. While the sight of students selling sugar-coated cupcakes in the lobby of the Rogers Communications Centre is a common one, students have to look further if their kitchen skills are not up to par. Websites such as IndieGoGo help students spread awareness about their projects and look for funds from outside sources.
RTA practicum professor, Richard Grunberg, says that the cost of these final projects has been greatly reduced over the last few years.
The school has an agreement with ACTRA, where acting talent is provided for free, and they have managed to cut out a couple hundred dollars worth of insurance costs the students once had to pay for.
But the faculty can’t cover all the expenses: “If we paid for everything, there would be no incentive to get the job done,” he says.
“We would be taking away a valuable learning experience,” he adds.
What helped Barriuso with his funding was that the Down Syndrome Association of Toronto issued a tax rebate to anyone who donated towards his project.
“The was a lot of knocking on doors to find private sponsors,” he says.
Though costs of projects can range anywhere from $100 to $20,000, some students, surprisingly, don’t seem to mind having to fork out the extra cash.
“It’s a privilege to be able to direct a film like this,” says Ryan Jakubek, a fourth-year film student. Of the six projects he’s been a part of this year, each one had a budget of $10,000 or more. And he’s OK with that.
“The more money that comes from other people, the less control you have over the final product,” he says.
Melissa Palermo, Ryerson Students’ Union vice- president of education and fourth-year image arts student, believes that students are paying too much for their education: “We should have the money to study what we want,” she says. But tuition fees won’t be dropping anytime soon, as the Ontario government is anticipating a five per cent tuition increase.
But while many students do spend months’ worth of savings on their capstone projects, some don’t, and still manage to get the assignment done. Stephanie Senater, a fourth-year fashion communications student, is days away from handing in her final project – a series of five paintings, in which she used the body as a tool, instead of usual instruments used to create art. In total, she spent about $300 on the total project – a pretty decent price, as she puts it. Though the project has been a huge commitment and feels like it’s been her world, she believes that the only way these projects end up being rewarding is if they are something that’s continued once the artist has graduated. However, she doesn’t plan on taking her piece further than Ryerson, as it was just an interest of hers that she wanted to explore.
With arts and media industries continually growing more competitive, students can’t afford not to fork out the extra cash needed to fund their final projects.
“When people go into film, there is the need to tell a story, and we will tell that story,” says Barriuso.
“It’s ultimately an investment. The time will come when all of this pays off,” says Barriuso.
And these projects aren’t just experince in creating a piece of art. They are also stepping-stones to starting their own businesses, which many of them will have to do once they leave the university.
And at this rate, it doesn’t look like anything – money, for that matter – is going to slow these students down from achieving their goals.