On Campus

Tuition hikes for Manitoba

Province approves large increases for dentistry and MBA students, while rejecting several others

The Manitoba government has accepted proposals to permit massive tuition increases for students in dentistry and students in the master’s of business administration program, while rejecting several other proposals from the province’s universities. And, like decisions made elsewhere regarding tuition, there appears to be no concrete rationale, no underlying principle, no apparent reason whatsoever really, why significant tuition increases are permitted for some programs but not others. Or, for that matter, why some programs wouldn’t see tuition decrease.

Of 10 requests made by the University of Manitoba, and two made by the University of Winnipeg, the Council on Post-Secondary Education (COPSE), which serves as a buffer between the government and universities, recommended that four programs be permitted to increase tuition. Of those four, the province accepted only two. COPSE does not make public its reasoning for recommending or not recommending tuition increases to the government.

A proposal, recommended by COPSE, to increase tuition for the U of M’s dental hygiene diploma by 20 per cent was rejected by the department of advanced education because  of supposedly insufficient “future income” for graduates. Dental hygienists earn around $60,000 per year depending on region and experience. The province’s denial of a tuition increase for dental hygiene, on grounds that compared tuition and earnings, is curious. If such a rationale can be used to increase tuition, even though it wasn’t in this case, couldn’t it be used as a justification to lower tuition?

To draw a comparison with another program, a four year arts degree sets U of M students back by about $11,280, while the two-year dental hygiene diploma costs a little over $13,000, when accounting for the qualifying year students are required to take.  However, it is likely that if opportunity costs are taken into account, due to the extra year of study and  therefore extra year of foregone earnings, the cost of an arts degree would likely be much more expensive. So, assuming that tuition for dental hygiene is set correctly in proportion to future earnings, wouldn’t this suggest that arts students who have lower earning potential (see here, bottom of page) are paying too much and should have their costs lowered? Of course, neither the university or the province has plans to lower tuition.

The province used entirely different reasoning to explain its rejection of a proposed increase to medicine by 73 per cent: to ensure “that recruitment of additional doctors is not compromised.” Presumably, this means that students would be deterred from entering medical school if tuition was too high. Well, maybe, I suppose, if you ignore doctor’s salaries, this reasoning might have some traction.

Presently medical school tuition in Manitoba is $6,700. If the increase were permitted, tuition would have risen to $11,591, and, while the national average is $10,216, that figure is pulled down by Quebec where medical students pay about $2,400. Manitoba tuition would have stayed well below several other medical schools, like the University of British Columbia, or the University of Toronto, that charge in excess of $15,000 per year.

And even if some students were deterred from applying to medical school, the U of M received 851 applications in 2009, and admitted only 110. Though not all of those students are likely to meet admissions standards, it is overblown to suggest that the pool of acceptable applicants would disappear. To offset any declines in applications due to higher costs, the university could also open its doors to students outside Manitoba, as only six out-of-province students were admitted in 2009, in line with protectionist university policy.

The decision to deny a tuition increase to medicine becomes even more obtuse when considering the fact that tuition for dentistry students–who already pay more than $12,000 compared to medicine’s $6,700–will rise by 20 per cent. To add to the confusion, in its statement, the province provided no justification as to why dentistry students, as well as MBA students, would see their tuition rise. Are those programs somehow special?