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The Sacred Cow of Low Tuition

The Sacred Cow of Low Tuition

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Published by maxfawcett

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Published by: maxfawcett on Oct 25, 2010
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10/25/2010

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Thesacred cowof low tuition
MAX
 
FAWCETT
Special to Globe and Mail UpdateWednesday, February 07, 2007Today, on campuses and in front of legislatures across the country, students will beprotesting against the cost of postsecondary education and demanding a freeze intuition rates. If you care about their issues and sympathize with their plight, youshouldn't listen to a word they say.The idea that there is a direct and proportional relationship between tuition fees andthe plight of Canada's postsecondary students is well entrenched in our nationalconsciousness. A decade of fiery speeches delivered by politicians, public protestsorganized by student groups and withering editorials printed in newspapers acrossthe country has conditioned most Canadians to believe tuition increases are directattacks on the welfare of students and their families. There are few figures in societymore despicable than the child molester, but a supporter of higher tuition fees couldgive him a run for his money these days.According to supporters of low tuition fees, increases invariably come out of thepockets of students, but the facts tell a much different story. The misunderstandingbegins, as they often do, with confused language. Tuition is almost always referredto as a fee, but it acts — at least, it can — as a redistributive tax. An example iswhat happens at Ivy League schools in the United States, where students pay fullcost for their education and tuition fees are approximately $40,000 (Canadian) ayear.By charging full price for a student's education — soaking the rich kids, to borrowMacleans columnist Paul Wells's wording — Ivy League schools are able toredistribute a substantial percentage of those funds into bursaries and grants moregenerous than anything a Canadian university could possibly provide. The Universityof Toronto's Faculty of Law has already cottoned on this concept by raising tuition to$20,000 a year and redistributing the funds into both a higher quality of education
 
for the students and massive grants — free tuition, in certain cases — for studentswho can't otherwise attend.The rest of Canada's postsecondary tuition structure is positively Republican incomparison, subsidizing richer students and punishing their poorer classmates. Whilethe federal and provincial governments devote a shade under $1-billion each year toneed-based scholarships and grants, it spends approximately $10-billion in the formof provincial transfers to colleges and universities as well as federal tax transfers toindividuals on a per-student basis. In other words, for every dollar that thegovernment dedicates to needy students, it spends 10 in a way that fails todifferentiate between a student with deep pockets and one who has holes in them. Inessence, reducing tuition is like cutting taxes for the rich.There is also a parallel confusion surrounding the concept of accessibility. Studentadvocates and politicians often trot out accessibility as a reason, a priori, that tuitionfees must be suppressed, but that ignores its multidimensional nature. There's noquestion that taken on their own, high fees discourage students who come frompoorer families from accessing postsecondary education. But just as it is unjust todeny students the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education because theycannot afford it, it is equally unjust to prevent students from pursuing an educationbecause they are effectively being rationed out. That's what happens in a low-funding, low-tuition framework; as costs rise and funding remains fixed, institutionsare forced to reduce the number of spaces available to students in order to balancetheir budget.For example, UBC president Martha Piper has mused that she'd like to create 30,000more spaces but cannot find the funding thanks largely to a tuition freeze that wasonly recently lifted. In Nova Scotia, where tuition fees have been allowed to rise,student spaces are much more widely available. While financially disadvantagedstudents can take out a loan to pay for education, students who are unable to satisfytheir university's increasingly unreasonable entrance requirements — the means of rationing the student spaces — have no such recourse.Don't get me wrong here. I think that students bear an outrageous burden and ourpolitical leaders, obsessed with placating the massive cohort of aging Baby Boomerswho are more interested in accessibility to hip replacements than postsecondary

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