Skip to main content

U.S.-Canadian citizen Deven Sanon, a third-year finance student at McGill University, pays just $4,200 tuition annually, quite a deal compared to $60,000 (U.S.) at a U.S. school.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Canada's diminished dollar and the possible presidency of a pumped-up Trump have the potential to prompt U.S. business students to look north, especially those with dual citizenship.

One student who's already heard the call is dual citizen Deven Sanon, a winner of multiple scholastic awards in high school and university, who opted for McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal instead of Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where he was accepted.

"With the dollar around 74 cents (U.S.), that's like 26 per cent off everything," says Mr. Sanon, 20, who is working toward a bachelor of commerce degree. Mr. Sanon grew up in Rochester, N.Y., a five-hour drive from Montreal.

Tuition for two semesters at Carnegie Mellon costs $60,000. At Desautels, bachelor of commerce international tuition is about $40,000 (Canadian) for two semesters, and MBA tuition is the same for everyone, regardless of origin, at $79,500 for a two-year program. Because of his U.S.-Canadian citizenship, courtesy of his father, and because he has lived in Quebec long enough to be considered a resident, Mr. Sanon is the beneficiary of Quebec's low tuition rates. He pays just $4,200 for two semesters of full-time classes at a highly-rated university. "I love it here," he says.

Not only is there high-quality teaching, Mr. Sanon believes that Desautels' classes are more challenging than U.S. schools. "I feel like the schools in the States coddle their students more than Canada. At McGill, you're expected to be independent. You have to take more initiative."

As well, his social life is well-rounded because it doesn't revolve around fraternities, he adds.

Another Canuck bonus is that McGill's student population is more diverse than what he would experience in the United States. Since relocating to cosmopolitan Montreal, Mr. Sanon has met people from distant parts of the world, which adds another layer to his education. "And I had my first beer in Montreal," he says of Quebec's 18-year-old legal drinking age.

Federal government statistics show a steady but unchanged stream of Americans coming north – about 12,500 in 2014, the last year for which data are available and almost identical to 2004. But that was before much of the dollar's descent.

When Mr. Sanon and classmates from California, Colorado, Boston, Chicago and Long Island, N.Y., share a brew, they wonder why more U.S. students don't study in Canada, although since landing in Montreal in 2013, he has witnessed the arrival of more Americans each year. And if Donald Trump's presidential bid doesn't deflate, he suspects the numbers will only balloon.

Still, Desautels' chief marketing manager believes that Canadian business schools could probably do better at attracting U.S. students. "We have some of the very best international schools in the world, and Canada is a fantastic place to be a student. The U.S. students we do have often say to us, 'Why don't more Americans come here?' Our alumni in the U.S. are our best ambassadors. I think we could leverage their passion more. It's something we at Desautels will be working on in the years to come," Ron Duerksen wrote in an e-mail.

At Desautels' undergraduate level, about 15 per cent of applicants are American, but in the past year there has been almost a 10-per-cent jump. There is no annual quota on international students. As well, McGill is one of the few Canadian schools that provides McGill-funded scholarships and financial aid to international students. And, Americans can transfer their U.S. government loans to McGill, Mr. Duerksen wrote.

At Dalhousie University's Rowe School of Business, where Canadians pay $46,000 for the full MBA program and international students are billed $65,000, the international student co-ordinator says the number of U.S. learners is growing.

"Tuition fees are a big issue in that," says Lokiy Wang, who earned a Rowe commerce degree in 2015 after coming from Shandong, China, in 2011. "A lot of our U.S. students have double citizenship."

Their bill for a Rowe MBA would be about $34,650 (U.S.).

About 30 per cent of Rowe's 2,500 students are from outside Canada, and of those 750, about 20 per cent are from North and South America, and Europe. Ms. Wang didn't have a breakdown of students from the 50 states.

At the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business in Vancouver, U.S. students represent roughly 5 per cent of the school's 4,000-student population, but it's changing. "We've certainly seen an increase in interest in students from the U.S.," says Liz Starbuck Greer, an assistant dean at Sauder.

In the past year, there have been about 20 per cent more inquiries from U.S. students. Yet, when dealing with relatively small numbers, the new-found interest doesn't represent a significant jump in the totals, she adds.

Results of a recruitment tour in 2015 for the 2016 academic year may bump up the numbers after UBC staff visited Seattle, San Francisco and Houston. "Students were much more open to the idea of coming to Canada," says Ms. Starbuck Greer, who left England, and her job at Oxford University, to work at UBC in 2012.

During the trip, there was a distinct sense that American students were seriously considering education in Canada, unlike in the past. It was difficult to assess whether the strong U.S. greenback played a role in the rosy interest in Canada, says Ms. Starbuck Greer.

But when a similar, or even less advanced, MBA program costs double in the United States, the expense, while not overtly discussed, likely plays into the decisions, she says. Of the three cities, Houston students were the most keen on Canada. The 16-month Sauder MBA carries a $45,656 (Canadian) price tag for Canadian students and $65,998 for U.S. and international students, which converts to about $49,700 (U.S.).

Ms. Starbuck Greer doesn't know whether the Trump factor will lead to more U.S. students at Sauder, but she does think that of the U.S. students who come to Vancouver, it's often a lifestyle choice. "We're very much a West Coast school. It's about innovation and a new way of doing business," she says.

In 2014, 336,000 international students came to study in Canada, at all levels, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education. U.S. students ranked as the sixth-biggest source country, with 12,450 of them opting for Canadian schools. Canada's number one source of international students was China, whose 110,900 students accounted for one-third of the total.