- Pre-Election Letter to CUFA BC Members - May 10, 2013
- Professors Support NDP Proposal on Needs-Based Student Grants, but Say More Still Can Be Done - April 23, 2013
- CUFA BC Releases E-Book on Academic Governance - April 10, 2013
- UBC-O, UNBC and SFU Professors to be Honoured for Using Their Research in Service of the Community - April 3, 2013
What's the Deal With Tuition Fees? - Part III
- Published on Tuesday, 08 August 2006 03:39
- Written by Robert Clift
What's the Deal With Tuition Fees? - Part III
After a weekend break, here's the final part of the discussion about tuition fees and the provincial election campaign.
In Part II, I discussed the relationship between government-provided operating grants for public post-secondary institutions and tuition fee policy. In this final part, I'll talk about the effect of tuition fee policies on students and what the parties can do to earn the trust of the public post-secondary education sector on this issue.
A number of commentators, including me on occasion, have observed that despite skyrocketing tuition fees, public post-secondary institutions are still filling most of their spaces. Does this mean that students have just "sucked it up" and are dealing with the reality of higher tuition fees, or is there something else going on?
There is evidence that family income has become a less-rigid determinant of participation in post-secondary education, apparently due to the availability of government-subsidised student financial assistance programs.
At the same time, however, several (mainly rural) colleges in British Columbia saw a drop in enrollment this past fall. A plausible explanation for this drop is that tuition fees at the colleges have hit the "tipping point". That is, although students may have managed to deal with tuition fee increases until now, we may have reached the point at which any further increases in tuition fees will result in a significant number of students giving up on trying to attain a post-secondary education. This may well be why the BC Liberal government promised to limit future tuition fee increases to the rate of inflation.I believe what we are seeing is the beginning of a fracturing of post-secondary opportunity. What I mean by that is that small, but significant, numbers of students will find themselves pushed out by a combination of factors. In rural areas, it may be that tuition fees are the big issue. In urban areas, in may be that being a single parent or an aboriginal person results in greater difficulties in attaining post-secondary education.
My point is that government does not have a grasp about how its tuition fee, student financial assistance, and institutional funding policies are affecting sub-populations of potential students. If you look at average effects across the province, there may not appear to be much change, but if you look at children of single parent families in Prince Rupert, it's probably a much different story.
Does the provincial government have the capacity to answer this question? Yes. Has it done so? No. Why? Because the people in those sub-populations might realize that they are not to blame as individuals, but rather, government policy has stacked the deck against them.
So, how can the parties earn the trust of the post-secondary system on this issue? They can commit to the following proposals:
- Tuition fees at public institutions should not be permitted to rise faster than the post-secondary rate of inflation;
- Base operating grants to public post-secondary institutions should be increased to offset the effect of inflation, and if tuition fees are frozen or reduced, compensating funding should be provided;
- The provincial student financial assistance program should be modified to allow students in non-academic programs to benefit from the BC Loan Reduction Program (or better yet, the Loan Reduction Program should be scrapped and replaced with a grant program);
- The provincial government should enter a meaningful dialogue with students, faculty, administrators and other post-secondary education stakeholders to try and strike an appropriate balance between institutional funding and tuition fee levels;
- Once a balance is struck between funding and tuition fee levels, the provincial government should then provide a comprehensive student financial assistance system to assist all public post-secondary students in meeting the costs of being a student.
Any party that promised all of that, and could reasonably be expected to deliver it, would certainly get my vote. Unfortunately, none of them fit the bill yet.