Education think tank calls for tuition hike

Despite middle-class backlash, group says move is necessary to preserve quality of education


On the heels of the release of the 2008 Survey on Canadian Attitudes toward Learning, which suggests that Canadians are concerned about the existing costs of post-secondary education, the Educational Policy Institute has released a report advocating that provincial governments allow post-secondary institutions to increase tuition further in order to offset declining revenues. From The Toronto Star:

Dramatic tuition hikes must be part of a recession survival plan for Canada’s ivory tower, warns an education think tank.

Colleges and universities must consider charging more, despite a middle-class backlash, if they hope to avoid diluting the quality of education during the economic crisis, says the report by the non-profit Educational Policy Institute.

The report predicts fee hikes of up to 25 per cent in the next couple of years – in line with increases during the last recession – which would generate $1 billion to $2 billion for recession-hit campuses.

The full text of the EPI report can be downloaded here in .pdf format.


Education think tank calls for tuition hike

  1. Even the United States (not especially a communist haven) is INCREASING the share of public funding of PSE (via the stimulus plan) right now.

    Raise tuition fees during a recession, i.e. “charge people more when they can afford it the less”… didn’t the EPI realize that credit/indebtness fueled this whole crisis?

  2. Another way of looking at this is “pushing more people into greater debt when they can least afford it”. I am completely opposed to further increases in tuition, especially anything phrased as “dramatic”. I already pay around $12k+ in annual tuition and fees (after taking into account bursary money). Just how much more debt should I have to taken on before I have an income?

  3. Alex Usher and the EPI supporting increasing tuition?

    What next, the Fraser Institute supporting privatization? Scientists coming out with a study showing that the sky is blue?

  4. Also, since Ontario tripled tuition fees during the economic boom of the mid-90s with no tangible increase in quality, why try the same failed strategy during a recession?

  5. It’s at the point that I’m getting pretty annoyed with Macleans for running one pro-extort-money-from-students articles. How much did the Andrew Coyne’s of this world pay – inflation adjusted – when they went to uni? I will be on the order of $100k in debt by the time I start residency – it’s not a bad investment by any stretch of the imagination, but I rather resent the fact that the previous generation could typically make enough in a summer to pay for school during the year. That is not remotely possible for me. (We might also question why, given the degree to which medical training is subsidized even with this higher tuition, it makes sense to cause students to amass very large debts on no assets, with all the perverse incentives implied thereby.)

  6. Given that governments in Canada are saying that they do not have the money they thought they had and will be running massive deficits, how exactly is the funding shortfall going to be bridged? Students currently pay 50% and the government/taxpayer effectively pays the rest.

    Either class sizes increase exponentially, tuition fees rise or taxpayers (the employed ones) stump up more cash. The likelihood is that we will end up with a mix of all three, which is probably equitable as long as it’s backed up by scholarships to protect accessibility.

    The complication is that both endowments, donations and pension funds are steeply decreasing also, so the usual cushions of the capitalist complex are not there either. Anyway, fundraising is corporatization and we know that’s bad. It says so in my pamphlet.

    Therefore student leaders need to pay attention to themselves and their public image and decide whether taking a position on every exciting issue under the sun vs. addressing the humdrum needs of dull students (freedom of speech, health care) is going to fly in these straitened times.

    My guess is that students across Canada will be looking to their leaders to get real and start representing all of their students, not just the ones that resemble themselves.

    Given that all political careers end in tears, narcissism is an especially poor preparation for public office.

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  8. I know Mr. Usher reads this blog so I am curious: if economic times were good would he be advocating for reduced tuition fees?

  9. Let’s see what I can do to contribue to this discussion…

    First, the idea that the US is increasing the amount of money in PSE right now is 100% wrong. The federal government is putting more money into student assistance (Canada doesn’t need to do this, exactly, because our student aid busgets increase automatically in bad times and that’s a good thing, as we say in our paper). It is also putting more money into research, which is great, something Canada isn’t doing enough of (a point we criticize in our paper). However, institutional budgets are in the hands of the states, which are almost all drowning in red ink and with one or two exceptions are constitutionally required to balance their budgets every year. The states are going to be cutting money to PSE like nobody’s business. The cuts will, in fact, be much more severe than they are here (or at least, they will come a lot sooner). So this contrasting of the US positively with Canada is simply misinformed.

    I think people should keep in mind the specific context in which we wrote about tuition fees in this paper (which, admittedly, might not have been obvious if all you had to go on was the Toronto Star article…I thought Maclean’s Paul Wells actually nailed the content, though). The specific context is that we are talking about a situation of rising staff costs, declining government grants, pension funds in a mess, endowment income slashed and – at larger institutions at least – a jump in expensive graduate enrolments. These things aren’t really in doubt. They either have all happened or will all happen in the next two-three years (though, if oil prices pick up, universities in Alberta and Newfoundland might excape the knife a bit).

    The choice that governments are going to have to make in this situation is pretty clear – either a major drop in per-student revenues (and thus, presumably, quality), or a tuition fee increase and a minor drop in per-student revenues. There are no other choices. I’m sure some student lobbyists will want to cry “false dichotomy” at this point, but that’s really an is/ought debate. In practice, that’s going to be the choice.

    It’s the kind of choice that BC, for instance, had towards the end of the NDP government’s term, when the tuition fee freeze was then in its fifth year. And the result was UBC not allowing science students into laboratories until 3d year. Is that a quality education? Would people prefer to pay $5500/year for an education lie that or $7000/year for an education with a littlemore quality and a few more opportunities? Those are the kinds of choices society will collectively be making over the next few years.

    In that situation, I think the choice will be for higher tuition. And, given the protection to poorer students provided by student aid programs, that’s probably not going to have much of an effect on accessibility. It will make life tougher for some people, certainly, but as previous major tuition rises have shown, it doesn’t really alter students’ behaviour very much and from the point of view of efficient government spending, that’s what matters.

    On Philippe’s point about tuition in Ontario in the 90s – the problem withthat argument is that the alternative is Quebec’s model in the 1990s – when the PQ reduced government funding by almost as much as Harris did, but kept tuition fees frozen. I think – and I think most people working in universities would agree with me – that a very big quality gap openend up between institutions in the two provinces at that point. Tuition fee rises might not increase quality in times of government austerity, but they can prevent a significant deterioration in it.

    To the question about whether I would advocate reductions in tuition in good times, the quick answer is:

    a) I’m profoundly indifferent to the absolute level of tuition provided there are good outcomes in terms of access and completion. I mean, we seem to have broadly similar outcomes in terms of access across Canada, despite having about a $5000 spread in tuition fees between (say) Quebec and Nova Scotia. So why should anyone think the absolute level matters that much?

    b) I never advocate for a blanket subsidy giving the same money to rich and poor, needy and non-needy alike, if a more targeted and precise delivery mechnism is available. Which is precisely what student aid is. Preferring tuition reductions to increases in student aid is tantamount to sayng that it is illegitimate to give money to the poor without also giving it to the rich.

  10. Re: “Preferring tuition reductions to increases in student aid is tantamount to saying that it is illegitimate to give money to the poor without also giving it to the rich.”

    Unfortunately Alex this is about where we are (although it’s not really so much a rich-poor dichotomy). Keeping tuition frozen or keeping increases to the rate of inflation does provide helpful assistance to many students and potential students, but these policies alone do not go far enough to help others who cannot access the system. While interest groups have done a good job of making the access debate almost entirely about tuition fees, affordability is not all about tuition and accessibility is not all about money. These two points are too often smothered by all of the political rhetoric about fees.

  11. True enough, Dale.

    By the way, I’m not entirely sure if my comments would be the same for further ed as it is for higher ed. There’s a decent rationale for lower or even free tuition at community colleges; not so much for universities.

  12. “On Philippe’s point about tuition in Ontario in the 90s – the problem withthat argument is that the alternative is Quebec’s model in the 1990s – when the PQ reduced government funding by almost as much as Harris did, but kept tuition fees frozen. I think – and I think most people working in universities would agree with me – that a very big quality gap openend up between institutions in the two provinces at that point. Tuition fee rises might not increase quality in times of government austerity, but they can prevent a significant deterioration in it.”

    Are we supposed to take you argument about the difference of quality in Quebec vs. Ontario schools at face value? Doesn’t McGill does at least as well as the University of Toronto? Doesn’t Laval does at least as well as the University of Ottawa?

    Does the McGill law education (at $2,000 a year) is worth 8 times less that the U of T law education (at $16,000 a year)?

  13. Nice straw man. But as I’m sure you realise, I was arguing a point about total dollars expended per student, not about absolute tuition levels. Regardless of where that comes from, more is (usually) better than less, right? Otherwise, why ever argue for more funding of higher education, from public or private sources?

    On comparing educations at different institutions – it’s always tough, but I would argue very strongly that on the metrics that matter to those two institutions, U of T is far and away a better institution than McGill (and I say that as an alumnus of the latter). There’s no comparison when it comes to available resources.

  14. Likewise, Nova Scotia’s stubbornly high tuition fees (n.b. the highest in the country for many years) do not reflect higher quality per se, but simply lower government funding. Medical school tuition, to take one example, rose in direct response to funding cuts 8-9 years ago, but it’s only in the last year that provincial student aid has risen for professional students to reflect their increased personal costs.

  15. Well, this is exactly the point. Raising tuition fees is not necessarily correlated with increased total expenditures per student. Most of the time tuition hikes have been a response to reduced government funding. Also in the case of law schools, in many universities they effectively subsidize the rest of campus, because law students pay more than the cost of their education.

    If you were asking for a tuition increase AND a public funding component indexed to inflation (to at least keep the public/private ratio the same), that would be more debatable.

    By the same logic, if you were asking for a tuition increase of 25% combined with a 25% increase in public funding, that would be, again, debatable (although probably people would realize that neither the students, neither the state, could afford it).

    However, neither of these is the case, and your proposal is effectively to shift a greater proportion of the responsability away from the government (i.e. making these institutions one step closer to being effectively private).

    As far as McGill vs. U of T, it depends which national/international rankings you look at. But in the British Times rankings (which might be more “objective” considering it’s based outside of North America), McGill came ahead of many public and private schools in the United States, that charge over 10 times the McGill tuition.

  16. I think you’re misunderstanding my original point. I never suggested that tuition is correlated with rising expenditure per student. What I did was to compare Ontario and quebec in the late 1990s. Both made comparably-sized cuts in public funding at arounfd the same time. In Ontario, institutions were allowed to make up some of the difference through tuition fee increases. in Quebec, institutions were prevented from doing the same. Ontario institutions were better off and were able to keep per-student expenditures higher.

    Now, you can believe, as I do, that the resulting smaller proportional drop in expenditures had on balance a positive effect on educational quality in Ontario. Or you can believe that it made no difference. But if you can drop per-student expenditures with no difference to quality, then what case can you ever make in favour of higher per-student funding from public money?

    The Times rankings are quite problematic, btw, both because of the way they normalise scores and because of the heavy reliance on a reputation survey which they have never properly opened up to external scrutiny. The Shanghai rankings are considerably more scientific. Or the new taiwanese world rankings. Or the Swiss “Champions League” rankings. basically any rankings which look at scholarly output. They’ll tell a different story.

  17. So you’re just arguing that – regardless of whether the money comes from tuition or government – institutions that have had more flexibility to maintain revenue (i.e. by raising fees in response to drops in funding) are better off?

    That seems rather trite – and obvious (which is not to say that “quality” changes in an inherently predictable way in response to changes in the revenue stream). Regarding professional students, increases in tuition have left them (us) facing massively increased debtloads – I’ll be lucky if I don’t crack $100,000 by 2012, and I’m going to have to take out disability insurance (more costs) to carry that debtload safely. Of course, barring unforeseen events, I won’t have a great deal of difficulty in paying off the principal (plus interest, of course), but in the meantime I’m left with no assets, massive debt, and non-existent financial security. I’m just glad I’m not a law student.

  18. Alex Usher, is there any fathomable economic situation where you WOULDN’T recommend increasing my tuition fees?

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