Date: Friday, March 02 2007
The opinion piece by Lydia Lovric, “University students are fortunate their tuition is as cheap as it is”, published by The Province on February 9, 2007, is a short-sighted and narrow-minded view of escalating tuition rates in BC and across the country.
Lovric wrote this piece in reaction to the tuition fee reduction rallies staged across Canada during the week of Feb.4. Lovric misinterprets what the demonstrations were about. In her estimation the rallies agitated for increased government funding for post-secondary education in order to further subsidize the education of rich kids who already do not appreciate the value of their education. She believes students are being unreasonable in their demands because “compared to students in the U.S. you have it easy”. She further characterizes students as lazy arguing, “There are things called summer and part-time jobs you may want to look into”, as if many students don’t already work at least part-time to cover the cost of living in addition to their education. She also believes student debt is a minor issue because “If you are studying something worthwhile, then paying back your student loans shouldn’t be much of a problem”.
Lovric completely misses the point of the tuition fee reduction campaign. The aim of this campaign is to reverse the trend of decreasing government funding. The goal is to make education accessible to all and not just the wealthy. Lovric over-simplifies and generalizes the problem as one in which a bunch of whiny college kids are unprepared to face the real world. The reality is post-secondary funding is being neglected by provincial and federal levels of government who are placing the ever increasing burden on the students. In BC the neglect is especially glaring.
Since the 1990’s government funding for universities and colleges has declined significantly in British Columbia. On a per capita, weighted basis, accounting for inflation, funding per student in BC universities declined by 21.4% from 1990/1991-2003-2004. “Weighted” basis refers to the cost implications of different students as different areas have different cost implications; for example, arts students cost implications differs from those of sciences. On a weighted basis per student funding fell from $5790/ student to $4548/ student during that same time period. In colleges per student funding declined 10.4%, or $7848/student-$7030/student from 1991/1992-2004/2005. Per capita funding relating to the total population of those from 18-24 (the most common ages of post secondary attendance) in BC had remained relatively unchanged from 1990-2004 but this is actually inadequate as participation rates from the early 90’s to 2000 had grown from 15.4%-21.4%.
Government neglect of post secondary education can also be seen in funding relating to the GDP, which has shrunk from early 90’s levels. Since 1991/1992 operating grants to universities have declined from .58% of the GDP to .47% of the GDP in 2003/2004. In colleges the operating grants have declined from .48% of GDP to .41% of GDP.
To counterbalance shrinking government funding the government has put the onus on students to balance the shortfall. From 2002-2005 tuition fees increased by 76%. In 2002 the average undergrad spent slightly over $2500 on tuition, in 2005 they spent slightly over $4500. This does not take into account the cost of books and other fees that can add thousands of dollars per year. This also does not take into account the cost of living, as some may have to live on campus in order to attend, which can add another $3500+ per year, and these are conservative estimates. Even with a part time or summer job, which Lovric feels we do not look into, we would be hard pressed to cover all expenses while being able to dedicate the appropriate amount of time required to our studies. In colleges average tuition rates have climbed from $1322-$3078 from 2002-2005. The median debt for students with loans in a 3-4 year program has risen to $15,200.
Lovric claims that lower income earners should not be taxed in order to subsidize post secondary education and she is right; there are tax rates based on income that protect a base amount of wages one can earn in Canada and those should be respected, but don’t low-mid level income families have the same rights to education as upper level income families? With rising tuition fees how will a “hard working stiff making $12 an hour” pay for their child’s (or children’s) education in the future? The mid-90’s saw the highest rate of middle-income level family participation at a time when tuitions were frozen, that participation rate has since declined. The 2004 government budget saw 18.5 million dollars removed from the grant program and transferred elsewhere under the guise of “new funding”. For 2006/2007 the government plans to increase funding by 85 million dollars but 220 million dollars would have been required in 2003/2004 to get per student funding levels back to 1991/1992 levels, and an additional 200 million+ would be required to properly fund the increased 13,000 seats available for 2007-2010.
The additional seats coupled with rising tuitions create an interesting problem for British Columbia. These seats are intended to make education more accessible for all. BC currently has the highest grade requirements for undergrads in the country, and these seats will make education more accessible, but who will the seats go to if rising tuition costs make post secondary education inaccessible to low income families? This will lead to the education system creating larger and larger economic inequalities in this province. Education is a constitutional responsibility of the province and it is the government’s responsibility to ensure equality of opportunity and access to all.
My opinion is not meant to criticize the provincial government alone. To get post secondary funding back to required levels the federal government has to take responsibility as well by replacing funds removed by Paul Martin during the mid-90’s. The NDP government of the 90’s also shares in responsibility because they allowed funding to stagnate in the face of growing participation and inflation rates.
Lovric is wrong to claim we have no right to complain because education here is cheaper than in the United States. Canada should be making education as accessible and affordable as possible regardless of what other countries are doing because now more than ever post secondary education is required to earn a good living in this country. On average people with post secondary education earn $600,000 more during their lifetime than those with none. If this government really does believe in “short term pain for long term gain” they should take into account the amount of future taxes that they would accrue when deciding on post secondary funding. In regards to the skilled trades work Lovric encourages us to look into, fees have risen by over $1000 on average for career-technical programs so even those forced to consider that alternative against their primary wishes may not be able to afford it.
The country needs educated and professional people to maintain the economy and standards of living. The people we are educating are not just self-servers. Go into your nearest hospital and see for yourself. What is more, people with a lot of money do not own the best brains, and we are fools if we neglect our poorer citizens who are able - given the chance - to contribute much that is original and important to society.
The government should be looking to do everything they can to encourage post secondary education because to do so would add value to the economy and lessen the burden on lower level income families. If Lovric really were concerned about “hard-working stiffs making $12 an hour” she would realize that.