In last week’s article “Low tuition is the wrong fight,” Andrew Haig argued that Quebec universities are squeezed between increasing costs and fixed income, with no alternative but to charge higher and higher fees.
However, throughout recent Canadian history, almost every time a university has increased tuition, the government cut a commensurate amount from its funding. Fee increases do not fuel the well-financed universities of tomorrow – they perpetuate chronic under-funding and transfer the monetary burden from government to students.
But shouldn’t the students who benefit from education shoulder its expense? Isn’t asking a taxpayer to foot the bill simply “another way of asking students to pay, but later, and with interest?” No. I seriously doubt that Mr. Haig could substantiate his claim, “most students will recognize that a few years of higher fees are infinitely preferable to a few decades of higher taxation.”
Many students are now graduating with debt payments that will be larger than their entire tax bill for decades. To assume that students would rather pay more now and less later is simply disingenuous.
The fundamental fallacy underlying these types of arguments is that education is a personal good. It is not. Education is a social good which benefits us all by creating prosperous, happy societies. One need only look to our Medicare system to understand that accessible education is both desirable and possible. Medicare was ridiculed as impossible when it was proposed, yet now it forms one of the cornerstones of our national identity.
It is in our best interest to contribute towards the education of the children and young adults who are the future of our society.
Mr. Haig also shoots down the argument that higher fees discriminate against poorer students by pointing to the example of Harvard. He states that the higher fees paid by the majority of students were used to give more free rides to poor students. But a bit of research turned up the interesting fact that Harvard is not only offering free rides to its less well-off students, but is actually cutting fees across the board. They are not alone. In the last 10 years at least 19 American universities have slashed fees dramatically.
Why would private institutions, unencumbered by noisy protesters, do such a thing? Because by lowering tuitions they reduced the size of the grants awarded to needy students. Since part of the grant funding comes from other students’ tuition, schools were able to cut tuition across the board. The growing consensus among American universities is that lower tuition increases accessibility; even in a climate rich with grants, which we don’t have.
President of Bethany College G.T. “Buck” Smith explained it this way “We elected to do this in the view that our discount would not have to be as heavy. Not only would we be doing the students and the families a service, but it would actually benefit the college.”
It is obvious that higher cost and debt discourages university attendance amongst those unable to afford tuition. Since Mr. Haig attempts to contradict this with a mere one-year study, allow me to provide a few statistics of my own, courtesy of the CFS.
– Statistics Canada reports that students from low-income families are less than half as likely to participate in university than those from high-income families. (Statistics Canada, “Participation in postsecondary education and family income,” The Daily. Friday, Dec. 7, 2001.)
– Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition survey tallied the reasons cited by high school graduates who did not participate in post-secondary education. By an overwhelming margin, the most frequently reported barrier to university and college for these students was “financial reasons.” (Statistics Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, “At a Crossroads: First Results for the 18 to 20-Year-old Cohort of the Youth in Transition Survey”, January 2002.)
– University of British Columbia researcher Lori McElroy found that students with little or no debt were more than twice as likely to finish their degree than students with high levels of debt. The completion rate for students with under $1,000 of debt was 71 per cent, while the completion rate for those with over $10,000 was 34 per cent. (McElroy, Lori. Student Aid and University Persistence: Does Debt Matter? Montreal: Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, 2005.)
Almost 50 years ago Tommy Douglas dared to dream big and made the impossible a reality. Do we want an education system where the prerequisites for entrance are found in a student’s bankbook rather than his transcript? Or shall we rise with one voice and demand accessible education for all?