Tuition From a Different Perspective

Friday, March 13, 2009


Written by Noah Jensen

This article is in response to the March 9th article suggesting tuition should be dropped or eliminated in Ontario/Canada. I can certainly empathise with the comments that were made having saved and borrowed money for years to finance my undergraduate degree. People who know me will remember that I was a huge proponent for the government creating an infrastructure to help re-educate newly laid off manufacturing workers for the new knowledge-based economy (well, I guess it was more of a peripheral argument to my advocacy of not bailing out manufacturing firms in Canada). We have since seen a terrific new initiative, “Second Career,” make $28,000 available to newly laid off workers so they can learn and apply new skills in today’s new economy.
My argument is that tuition needs to increase. While this may seem selfish for an alumnus, I would have taken on the extra debt as a student for a proportional increase in quality of education. An analysis of why this needs to be done relates simply back to the law, economics, and culture. Economically, Guelph has relatively low tuition when compared to other universities in the area such as Laurier and Waterloo. Legally, the money they are getting is simply insufficient to cope with the money they need to pay out due to restricted and endowment fund laws. Tuition is the lowest source of funding the university received in 2008 at $101.5M (ignoring immaterial accrual adjustments). Tuition is one of the only sources that can be used toward the operating (versus capital) budget.
While the provincial grants were more than tuition, a portion of these revenues are restricted in use and therefore cannot be used toward the operating budget. Another part goes toward infrastructure. The same applies to most large private donations. The implications of this are significant if you consider the outlandishly high cost structure of the university which includes unionized menial support staff members, bureaucratic process implementation, regulation limitations on tuition increases and ballooning pension liabilities.
The previous article states the “real” question to be whether or not we, as a society, can afford to decrease/eliminate tuition. First, it implies society should be responsible for bearing the “burden” of education. I think there is a clear perspective problem at the heart of this article. It identifies tuition in the eyes of a student to be a liability when it should be construed as an investment. If you want to know the real reason as to why wealthier families go to university, examine why some wealthy parents refuse to finance their children’s education. It is a cultural issue. My family is unique in that one side is completely university educated; the other side has little education. The side with the little education encouraged me to go to work right after high school to earn money so I could immediately start a family, buy a house, buy a car, etc. The extremely educated side advised me to save up money throughout high school and university, invest in an education, and seek out employment after. Education, between classes, has little to do with “accessibility” as stated in the other article, and more to do with the culture with which a person is raised and the priorities their family instils in them regardless of economic class (for further proof of how it can work the other way around, pick up a copy of Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad where his “poor” dad emphasizes education).
I think the article does not do enough to underscore the importance of self-reliance. This is another socio-economic differential between Canada and the countries the author cited. Many people actually believe that they are responsible for their own destiny and that hard work eventually pays off. By saying that the burden lies to the state not only enhances the burden on college and non-post-secondary taxpayers it also increases the burden to the post-secondary students in taxes for the rest of their lives. Of the cited by the author offering free post-secondary, one of them had a relatively close tax rate, Ireland. Ireland has 4.1 million people living there, we have over 30 million. The others were so heavily taxed why the hell would you want to go to university? You’d likely make just as much after-tax picking up trash along the highways as you would running a bank (note 0-63% tax rate in Denmark). Or maybe the government could just pay for you to be a student the rest of your life?
The notion that the state should offer free post-secondary education should be flat-out rejected. Tuition is an investment not an expense. Students not only receive financing for this investment easily through government programs and bank lines-of-credit; they also receive enough tax credits to ensure that they make tax-free income of up to $20,000 while working their way through school. Consider bursaries and scholarships and you have enough support that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. THAT is what society needs. We live in a meritocracy where hard work is rewarded, and the self-entitlement smell that emanates from the March 9th article is repugnant. If the state begins taking responsibility for people’s lives, you have communism, which would eliminate the need for people to work hard and the incentives we need for society to grow.
“Inaccessible education” is only inaccessible to those who believe they shouldn’t have to work for it. Whether through scholarship by working hard through high school, as Obama did, or by working hard through the midnight overtime shift at a potato chip factory, such as I did, there is work involved. The question that needs to be asked of the student is whether or not you want to pay more taxes for the rest of your life and get free tuition for four years, or bite the bullet on an investment that will benefit you for the rest of your career and give you the sense of satisfaction that you saved up and invested in something worthwhile. My contention remains that tuition should increase to support the school’s operating deficit that is not being met due to restricted fund regulations and tuition inadequacy.
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  1. Posted by: Libertarian_1 on Mar 14, 2009 @ 5:48pm

    good article. thanks for the insight!

  2. Posted by: Yes on Mar 17, 2009 @ 2:57am

    Finally. You don't know how much I want to strangle someone every time I hear the words DROP FEES.

  3. Posted by: George on Mar 17, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    Finally, a different perspective on theCannon about student fees

  4. Posted by: John L on Mar 22, 2009 @ 1:17pm

    On the issue of "free tuition" that's code for passing the cost off to the rest of society which, while great for the folks receiving it, isn't necessarily fair to everyone else. The reality is that there are very few people who wouldn't prefer to pay less (or nothing)for whatever it is they want. Students have been complaining about high tuition for decades so, unless there's a new or more compelling rationale for doing away with it, this is nothing more than yet more of the same old..

  5. Posted by: Jared on Mar 23, 2009 @ 5:50pm

    As a proportion of total funding, tuition fees have been rising and continue to rise. When the university sees students as a funding opportunity, it has incentive to push bigger classes and fewer programs to obtain more funding, which is detrimental to our education.

  6. Posted by: Jared on Mar 23, 2009 @ 6:03pm

    Your statement that education is accessable to anyone who wants to work for it is not true. It sounds easy to many of us in middle-class southern Ontario to just work hard and save and borrow to invest in school, but for those who aren't of a middle class background, dealing with teen pregnancy or substance abuse in their families, whose parents were either working 3 jobs or absent and so couldn't drive them to their part-time jobs, for those from less prosperous regions of the province or country, for those who are physically disabled, for those women who statistically get paid less than 80% than men and for minorities that get discriminated against, it is not easy to simply get a job and work hard and save and borrow. Middle-class males that claim that their families didn't pay for their education undersell the world of class benefits they have received.

  7. Posted by: same shit same pile on Mar 24, 2009 @ 8:58am

    to jared..

    the big truth of it all is that education is not a right...its a privilege. I find it comforting that the educated people of society have went through some struggles to get there. Sure people sometimes an upbringing that does always jive with post-secondary education but that can't be the sole basis of the argument you have.

    Long story short, Canada is not going to make university a free commodity. I can only hope that this drop tuition thing finally fizzes out and our efforts are directed towards something alittle more worthy of attention

  8. Posted by: Major point missed on Mar 24, 2009 @ 2:51pm

    While I understand the points of this article, there's one major problem: Quality of Education.
    Why pay for it if the quality doesn't exist? That's a whole other can of worms.

  9. Posted by: jared on Mar 25, 2009 @ 11:49am

    Even if education is a privilege, not a right, it makes sense for Canada to have low tuition and high public funding.

    The best way to get quality of education is with high public funding, low tuition rates, and limited spaces available. In this model only the hardest-working students with the best grades get accepted, and all of them can afford to go to school. There is no discrimination based on class, and degrees remain rare and prized.

    With universities getting their funding from the public with a mandate to educate, they focus on quality of education. If universities get more of their funding from tuition fees, they may focus more on quantity of students and efficiency of service delivery.

    The call to drop fees is not unrealistic. All that I'm asking for is for my parents' generation to fund my education the way that their parents' generation funded theirs.

  10. Posted by: NJ on Mar 25, 2009 @ 11:54am

    Excellent point, Major. However, I contend that the quality of something is directly related to the value of its inputs. If there is no money to hire talented/engaged professors from better funded schools, then there is no quality. If there is no money to invest in more classrooms or tech, quality suffers. Again, I think that the university system should bear the cost and not taxpayers.

    Jared, where there is a will there is a way. Tax dollars already cover people in those situations. Society has safety nets in place to facilitate physically disabled people (bursaries/scholarships) and people of low income have easy OSAP access plus the ability to work (I had to walk to work everyday it's not a big deal). You are living in a propaganda based dream world if you believe women are paid, on average, 80% of men's wages. That simply doesn't happen now, there's too much liability for companies following a pay structure like that, aside from the fact that university student jobs all pay the same standard wage 9(hourly). Most companies follow a mixed competency-market-based wage structure.

  11. Posted by: NJ on Mar 25, 2009 @ 12:07pm

    The best model is not to use public funding because population growth dictates that the costs to put people through will balloon quickly, especially given the fact that it will soon be hard to find a job without a university degree.

    With universities getting their money from the government to finance, their mandate will be to increase the number of students such that they can get more funding.

    While in an ideal world I can see that your model will work, Canada is losing its prominence in manufacturing which underscores the importance of a degree to adapt to a knowledge-based economy. Hence, the emphasis should be on getting more people through the programs on a self-sustainable business model.

    "All that I'm asking is for my parents' generation to fund my education the way their parents' generation funded theirs" underscores my opinion that this society is becoming far too self-entitled. Our grandparents were educated from post-wartime economic boomtime funding, our parents were educated during the Trudeau years (mostly) which saw Canada go into massive amounts of debt. I personally would not like to relive that.

  12. Posted by: Jared on Mar 25, 2009 @ 5:56pm

    "You are living in a propaganda based dream world if you believe women are paid, on average, 80% of men's wages."
    According to Canadian Labour Congress women working full time make 70.5% what men do. You are living in a propaganda based dream world if you believe sexism and racism are no longer important factors.


    If universities lose more public funding, and depend more on tuition fees in a self-sustainable business model, then they will become less like educational institutions and more like widget factories. The university becomes less concerned with quality education and more willing to run massive classes to harvest tuition fees. Students feel less like they are learning for the joy of it, to improve themselves, and more like they are paying for a piece of paper.

    My grandparents and parents lived prosperous lives, the public investment in their education seemed worth it. I would rather see Canada go into public debt to finance education than see an entire generation go into private debt.

    And how are we going to pay our loans when there's an economic crisis going on? When we are unable to pay, won't that contribute to the global liquidity problem?

  13. Posted by: Crap on Mar 25, 2009 @ 8:21pm

    Why does the CSA website have a direct link to this Drop Fees crap?

  14. Posted by: Jared on Mar 26, 2009 @ 9:13am

    Drop Fees is a CSA campaign, because the students elected representatives that want to lower tuition fees. You can run in the next CSA election on a "raise tuition fees" platform, but I don't think you would be very successful.

  15. Posted by: J. on Mar 28, 2009 @ 11:08am

    While it is an interesting debate (and personally I'm in favour of tuition fees going up and getting a higher quality education, my program is facing loss of electives next year due to restricted funding), it's kind of a moot point... the university is ABSOLUTELY NOT going to drop fees, and due to legislation they are frozen presently from increasing.

  16. Posted by: NJ on Mar 29, 2009 @ 4:32pm

    Do you understand what the term "propaganda" means? The organization who published this statistic is a pro-union lobbying group, who also did not care to share the details of the study leading to this figure. I would use this to highlight the depreciating education quality but most people learn the term propaganda in high school when studying WWII in grade 10 history class.

  17. Posted by: jared on Mar 30, 2009 @ 2:40pm

    And in university those of us who take social sciences learn that propaganda is a term for information we oppose, and unbiased is a term we use for information we agree with.

    But here's a better source:

    Professor Fenwick of University of Alberta cited that women earned on average 64% that men did, based on Statistics Canada 2000 info.

  18. Posted by: Jared on Mar 30, 2009 @ 2:42pm

    Fenwick, Tara. "What happens to the girls? Gender, Work, and Learning in Canada's 'new economy'", Gender and Education, Vol. 16, No. 2, June 2004.

  19. Posted by: Jared on Mar 30, 2009 @ 2:45pm

    According to this StatCan paper from 1999, women made an average of 84-89% of the hourly rate of men. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75f0002m/75f0002m1999008-eng.pdf

  20. Posted by: CM on Mar 31, 2009 @ 12:36pm

    "Tax dollars already cover people in those situations. Society has safety nets in place to facilitate physically disabled people (bursaries/scholarships) and people of low income have easy OSAP access plus the ability to work (I had to walk to work everyday it's not a big deal). You are living in a propaganda based dream world if you believe women are paid, on average, 80% of men's wages. That simply doesn't happen now"
    Tax dollars cover nothing.I come from a low income, single parent family, and OSAP gives me nothing.This summer I am getting a total of $178 for 5 courses, and because of the limited number of funding in the summer, no scholarships or bursaries. Tell me how this is expected to cover my tuition and books? And I worked all through high school with a minimum of 2 part-time jobs at one time while going to school, and even though I saved every cent I got I still couldn't even make it through 2 years of school with no debt. Where is this so called safety net?
    And finally Statistics Canada just released a report last month stating that women earn 70% of what men earn with the same position.

  21. Posted by: NJ on Apr 2, 2009 @ 6:59pm

    Your "safety net" is not having to pay income tax until you graduate through the deductibility of your tuition costs, the $400/month federal tax credit, and the $468/month provincial tax credit. Add on $25/month for student housing. Regular people actually pay tax, students do not. This is to minimize the debt you would incur by getting your education. Furthermore, these carryforward into your post-education years to allow you to accelerate paying down your loans.

    I never said it's possible to graduate debt free. Sometimes good investments (yourself, your education) require a bit of risk to yield fruit.

    Perhaps a more interesting argument should be: "women should pay 20% less tuition?" and this would satisfy your argument? In economics we learn about incentives to manipulate information.

  22. Posted by: Bliggity on Apr 3, 2009 @ 2:36pm

    For every action there is an equal and opposite *re*action. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, nothing desired is without cost, and absolutely NO thing is "free."

    I was at my university's general student election speeches a couple weeks back, and this one guy got up there and launched into a diatribe about how "ridiculous" it was that students should be forced to pay for photocopies *in addition to* tuition:

    "The Faculty at University X provides *their* students with free photocopies - why shouldn't we get the same benefit? If I'm elected for such-and-such, my first order of business will be to ensure students have access to free photocopies, free printing, and free binding services..."

  23. Posted by: Bliggity on Apr 3, 2009 @ 2:37pm

    What he didn't mention was that the university he was using as a comparator has a tuition rate 38% higher than ours. Free? No, no. What he was arguing for was essentially a re-distribution of cost from student to faculty, without recognizing that the faculty gets its money from, guess who, students! This is just a simple example of the short-sightedness of so many who argue for "lower" or "free" or "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" tuition. Someones gotta pay. Why should it be anyone else besides the person who demands the service?

  24. Posted by: Bliggity on Apr 3, 2009 @ 2:38pm

    But Bliggity, what about the government? Shouldn't *they* bear the burden? If I want free photocopies, shouldn't my country pay for it? That way, the faculty doesn't have to pay, the student (consumer) doesn't have to pay, and everyones all like "yaaay!" Sorrums. Doesn't work that way (points for rhyming?). The government of Canada deals in enough handouts to the 'entitleds,' which is why (a) they take half your money should you attain any degree of financial success in the future; (b) we lose our best and brightest via "brain drain" to countries that reward hard work rather than catering to excuses; and (c) we live in a culture that values "fairness" over personal accountability.

  25. Posted by: Bliggity on Apr 3, 2009 @ 2:39pm

    I understand that there are many that need a leg up. No doubt. But those people are few and far between. Don't tell me that just because you have one parent and a part-time job that you're some sort of special case. If you want something, work for it. If you don't want something, then leave it alone and get a job. That's your right. But I don't expect you to give me half your pay check so that I can go to school, or buy a house, or make any other sort of investment. Just sayin'.

    "Free" is a word that should be stricken from the dictionary, my opinion.

  26. Posted by: Jared on Apr 3, 2009 @ 3:30pm

    Keep telling yourself that anyone who works hard will get the reward they deserve, that way you can repress any guilt you may have from being so well off.

    You know who really work hard? People who can't afford to go to school.

  27. Posted by: Bliggity on Apr 4, 2009 @ 1:53pm


    I'm sorry you feel the need to resort to presumptions. However, I absolutely agree with you. Life isn't fair. Some people work very hard and get nothing, some work very little and get everything. But I think I have a solution. Instead of asking the government (or the university, or the public, or me) to pay for your tuition, why not take that money and support a family in Sub-Saharan Africa? They could use the $5,000 for the basics needed to sustain life => You would only use it to learn.

    This way, you can repress any guilt you may have from being so well off.

  28. Posted by: NJ on Apr 4, 2009 @ 3:15pm

    Hard work is rewarded because we live in a free democratic capitalist society. Are there not enough rags to riches stories of people working hard to become successful by their own accord? By refusing to accept that hard work is rewarded, or that only the well heeled are given opportunity, you have released control of your destiny to others and sealed your fate as the patsy their hard work will exploit for the rest of your life. Alternatively, you can realize you are responsible for your own destiny and work hard to make the best of it in one of the few societies in this world these opportunities exist.

    There's no such thing as people who can't afford to go to school. Where there is a will, there is a way, or at least an eager bank looking to loan you money. People who "can't afford to go to school" actually mean they're not willing to make the investment in education or are perhaps daunted by the work load associated with school. I have seen people of the bleakest economic background successfully complete school and thrive afterword, so I reject your hypothesis that it is economically unfeasible for the willing and capable to learn to attend university.

  29. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Apr 6, 2009 @ 4:29pm

    juicy debate.

  30. Posted by: brent on Apr 9, 2009 @ 6:30pm

    isn't it a good thing our taxes go towards beneficial public services such as water purification and sewage removal. things such as free health care and public transportation? without these infrastructural necessities, nobody would be doing any sort of learning, merely cleaning the shit from their own knees. we pay for these things to not only improve our standard of living in the present and to atleast preserve the same standards for the next generations. Should education not be amongst these necessities that allow for a better standard of living in Canada? Is it not better to have a society that has equal opportunity to education rather than a society with separation between the "prestigious" ones who can afford university degrees and the impoverish who are too worried about making ends meet to consider post-secondary education.

    Sure they could take out a bank loan, assuming they have a co-signer. Sure they can work hard and try to get enough money to pay for school, assuming they werent too hungry in highschool to achieve proper grades.

    If only they could afford a computer and internet to include their side of the story.

  31. Posted by: Jared on Apr 17, 2009 @ 5:36pm

    NJ: Systematic discrimination does exist, there is a reason why minority groups have less money, its not because white men are the hardest workers.

  32. Posted by: Jared on Apr 17, 2009 @ 5:41pm

    Bigg: Its funny you should say that, I'm just graduating in international development, to pursue a low-paid career in helping poor people.

  33. Posted by: on May 27, 2009 @ 12:34pm

    My issue with most of the people supporting the Drop Fees campaign is that they refuse to even attempt to see the other side of this issue. Who wouldn't like lower tuition fees? Certainly it'd be great, but the fact is the university is not in a position to lower fees. It takes a lot of money to keep a university running.

  34. Posted by: Natasha on Jun 1, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    I personally would be more than happy to see tuition fees be lowered but given the fact that our University is already being forced to eliminate full majors... Living in Canada we have a large number of safety nets and yet people continue to complain that the government does not do enough. We are currently in the middle of a recession; despite all the propaganda that Canada is not suffering we can’t afford to go redistributing government money to the few who attend University. Although countries like Denmark do pay for University education they also face over 50% tax rates, as a nation we lobby for lower taxes and then complain that the government does not do enough. If we are talking about social equality then we must look at it from the perspective of those who are poor and do not intend to attend University, because they would have to pay the higher tax rates as well. It is possible to go from rags to riches with the right amount of determination. I am not saying that there are not people that who come from situations where it is not possible, there are the token few, and they are the few who we constantly refer to in the hopes of increasing our own benefits.

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