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Tuition can't be paid with promises.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

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Written by Bob Przybyla

As we in Ontario watch as the current provincial government continues to let post-secondary education slip farther and farther by the wayside, someone is promising to do something about it in Manitoba. Conservative leader Hugh McFayden, according to the Winnipeg Sun, is promising grater funding to Universities in that province. The current NDP government has added more money to the education system but the instituted tuition freeze has created a funding gap, the same type of gap that is driving up tuition in Guelph.

Accessibility is becoming more and more of an issue in our society when it comes to post-secondary education. University of Guelph President Alastair Summerlee struck the Presidential Task Force on Accessibility in 2003. This step should be lauded for it’s consideration of the complex issues associated with accessibility, yet there are several problems with the report.

First, the report states that people from lower income families participate in University less than those from higher income families. In addressing this fact, the report states that these lower income students should simply obtain money for post-secondary education and put themselves in debt because the economic return on a post secondary education is so high that it will balance out the cost following graduation. This is possible because employment rates for Guelph grads were 97.8% in 2002. The line of thinking seems to be that because so many students are employed the current system works and student debt is repaid. However, from my personal experience, several graduates that I know find employment, but not in their field of study. Rather, these graduates find ANY job that can cover their basic needs and their debt repayment that they are required to make. With the lingering specter of loan payments students are sometimes forced to jump at any job, rather than waiting for the right one or taking a lower paying job that would provide valuable experience but little cash.

In the section titled “The Argument for Free Tuition,” the report comments that it is argued that a university system with no tuition creates higher public good. The report responds that there is also private gain to the individual and therefore it is reasonable that there is tuition. The report does not consider the possibility that there is higher private gain due to occurrence of debt. The report severely discounts the possibility of graduates taking more socially conscious and lower paying jobs if there was not the hurdle of debt that accompanies graduation and employment. However, the report does right in stating that the argument for zero tuition is flawed because there are students that are attending university simply for monetary gain later in life and because there are students that have it completely within their means to pay for tuition. Rather, there needs to be grater subsidizing for students in the low and even middle income brackets.

What is the solution? Hugh McFayden hasn’t provided any real answers. Instead, he’s made promises that he may not be able to keep. The solution in my eyes is by no means simple. It would be arrogant for me to suggest I can solve this problem. Rather, I can only state my opinion and hope that it will start discussion here on thecannon.ca, on campus and wherever this might be read.

From where I sit, I don’t see any help coming from the federal government, especially not right now. With the Harper government announcing cuts to 66 programs this past September I don’t imagine any significant new funding directed towards universities to solve this national crisis to be forthcoming. The McGuinty government promised to solve the funding crisis, and I imagine if they could do it right now they would.

The Task Force’s report speaks of private vs. public benefit. In this light I make the folowing proposal. With a progressive tax those that can afford to pay higher taxes, such as President Summerlee who checked in with over $305k in taxable income and benefits in 2005, would pay a higher percentage as they do now. The current system should be adjusted to allow for more money to float post-secondary education. With this money tuition could be reduced and/or more money could be provided to low and even middle income students in the form of grants. With a lower incidence of debt, those that wish to follow more altruistic employment following graduation would be better able to do so. Also, those that go on to employment for greater private gain could do so and would be able to support the university system through their taxes. In this way, the private benefit could support the public benefit. Obviously this is overly simplistic. If it were simply that easy, I’m sure it would have been done by now. No matter what, something must be done to at the very least stop the continued tuition increases that coincide with cuts at universities.

Your comments are not only welcome but are desired.

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  1. Posted by: on May 18, 2007 @ 2:57pm

    I'm glad to see thecannon reporting on the post-secondary education funding situation in Ontario....let's hope that lots of students get out and vote this coming October so that post-secondary education becomes a provincial priority

  2. Posted by: Tom F on Jun 11, 2007 @ 10:26pm

    I still don't understand why some hardworking stiffs should have to pay your tuition just because they didnt fit into the school system, when 90% of people spend more money on booze and other unnecessary stuff than on tuition.

  3. Posted by: steve on Jun 17, 2007 @ 12:16pm

    The only people I know that blow money money on unnecessary stuff as you put it are the people that are going to school on their parents' money. So in that way, it's already being paid by "some hard working stiffs." The way the author presented it above, is that you would pay your tuition after you graduate by paying your taxes when you are able to make money instead of getting loans and paying after the fact with interest.

  4. Posted by: Tom F on Jun 17, 2007 @ 2:57pm

    you may be right that it is their parents money, but if more people go on the governments money then more of the money they make can be wasted, and dont we have a problem with overcorwding? why would we want more people?

  5. Posted by: John L on Jun 23, 2007 @ 1:56pm

    Keep in mind that students have always maintained that tuitions are too high, rather like everyone else who'd prefer to pay less for things. The key is to make a better case why tuitions are unreasonably high; show some numbers, do some analysis, etc

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