Crunch time is approaching for Anna Cardwell.
The Catholic College Wodonga year 12 student, along with hundreds of her peers across the country, will finish her secondary schooling in a matter of months.
Many of those graduates will go straight through to university – but that pathway is only getting tougher for regional students.
The enormous cost of moving to places like Melbourne or Sydney is turning more and more of them away from their preferred fields.
Like many others, Anna will have to move to Melbourne to study in her field of choice – law.
“I found that because I wanted to go into a specific area of law and and pursue it at a high level in the future there was pretty much nothing I could do locally,” she said.
“The next step has been to look at studying in Melbourne or Sydney.”
One of Anna’s two older siblings went down a similar path, while the other is studying at CSU in Thurgoona.
For the Cardwell family, this is the third time they will weigh up the pros and cons of moving away for tertiary studies.
CCW careers adviser Sandie McKoy has been an integral part of the decision-making process.
There’s little Ms McKoy doesn’t help the students with – selecting year 12 subjects, helping them with course applications and offering advice on student accommodation all form part of her expertise.
She says it’s the last of those hurdles, finding accommodation, that still proves to be the biggest obstacle for aspiring regional students.
“In terms of finances, a lot of parents will come in and I talk to them about how much it’s going to cost, based on the options available for their particular tertiary institution,” she said.
“We discuss scholarships and how difficult they are to get, we talk youth allowance and whether that will be viable for that student, because they’re looking at three years at least, paying $20,000 or more annually.”
The biggest problem facing careers advisers is the sheer complexity of the Youth Allowance system, Ms McKoy said.
While some changes to Youth Allowance eligibility had been beneficial for regional students, she said the system was extremely difficult to navigate.
“Another problem is parents trying to wade through the system themselves – they’ll get different advice depending on who they talk to at Centrelink, or they’ll follow all the eligibility requirements, the kids will take a gap year, earn a certain amount of money over 18 months, only to be told they don’t qualify,” she said.
For Anna, she’s likely to take a gap year, work and save to cover the cost of moving.
“Mum and dad have been supportive, they understand how difficult it is for me to study locally,” she said.
“It’s an expensive move, I’m going to have to figure out the locations and finances for each.”
How much is Youth Allowance worth?
For the purposes of answering that question, we used the Department of Human Services’ Payment and Service finder, which can be found on their website.
We tried to make a basic profile of a student living in Wodonga – an 18-year-old, with two parents who live in their own home (not renting), with one sibling.
This student earns $616 per fortnight working part time (more on this figure later), and does not receive any other benefits from Centrelink.
We used a five-bedroom share-house in Deakin University’s Burwood campus student accommodation, at the cost of $289 per week, as an example of rental costs.
Now, this is where things get tricky.
To be eligible for Youth Allowance, an 18-year-old student must prove their independence. According to the website, you “may be independent” if you:
- support yourself through full time paid work for at least 18 months within any 2 year period
- OR your parental home is in an ‘inner regional’ area, such as Wodonga, you need to move away from home to study, and, since leaving secondary school, earned 75% or more of Wage Level A of the National Training Wage Schedule included in a modern award ($24,042 or more) over an 18 month period, or worked at least 15 hours per week for two years.
The earning figure of $616 per fortnight is derived from the $24,042 – divided by the 78 weeks of an 18-month period.
Based on this, you would qualify for $478 per fortnight in Youth Allowance, Rent Assistance and a $7 energy supplement.
Combined, this student’s fortnightly income would be $1094 per fortnight.
If you subtract the $578 in fortnightly rent, you’re left with $516 – or an income of $258 per week.
Not included in that are things like food, petrol or mobile phone bills.
Many student residences, such as the one at Burwood, do not charge for utilities or internet, which is good for those living on-campus, but is another bill for those struggling the rental market.
The figure provided by the DHS website is only an estimate – it could change depending on how much money you earn, or the combined income of your parents.
Students whose parents’ combined income exceeds $150,000 are not eligible for financial support.
Students can avoid the parental means test by working full-time for a minimum of 30 hours per week for 18 months over a two year period.
Students counting the costs
Contrary to popular belief, students are acutely aware of how much money it costs for them to study in a capital city.
Rental prices in Melbourne and Sydney have, by and large, risen in the last 12 months, with the median rental price well above $500 per week in the former.
On-campus student accommodation is limited and provides little relief from those financial pressures, and CCW’s Sandie McKoy says secondary school graduates have been taking notice.
“Students are quite stressed about that – they don’t want to be a financial burden on their parents,” she said.
It’s those rising costs – rent, power and gas bills in particular – that have weighed on their minds.
Even an increase in student fees, announced in the 2017 budget, were not necessarily a priority for those looking to study elsewhere.
“We’re finding more and more students are a lot more mindful of how (moving to a capital city) will impact their parents,” Ms McKoy said.
“We have families at CCW on single parent incomes, where parents have been retrenched, where they have a disability, and find that those kids are saying no, I’m going to stay here to study, even if it isn’t what I want to do.
“That’s a huge decision for a teenager to make.
“There are alternative pathways, but you still lose out in the long run.”