Editorial Pages – AU Tuition Increases

March 19, 2003

This week:

News From AU: Tuition increase, Edmonton Playwright to write an AU course, new AU governing council member and VPFA and more:

AUSU’s Sandra Moore covers the First National Forum on Post Secondary Education in Winnipeg. Read the highlights of this four day conference and learn AU had to add to the discussion.

The Popstar Experience by Debbie Jabbour. Read the conclusion this week.

A multitude of opinions [almost] on the proposed new AU extension policy, in Sounding Off.

I am still seeking comments for the upcoming Pets and Peeves column. Tell me what you love, and what you hate. Send in a favourite joke, a link to a great website, or anything at all:.


On March 5 AU academic council met to discuss the new AU budget [for more information, read News From AU in this issue]. As expected the university has determined that it must increase tuition in order to meet rising expenses. The higher tuition rates are meant to cover a shortfall that is said to stem from a combination of an estimated ten percent registration growth in the coming year, offset by only a two percent increase in government funding.

The result is a tuition increase of 7.32% – raising it from $381 from $355 – plus a $19 increase to books and materials fees, which will bring your total payable, including alumnae and student union fees, to $541.00 per undergrad course for Alberta students.

This number is even more startling when you compare it to the 1998/99 rate of $372.00, an increase of about 45% in 5 years.

AU insists that there is no other way to make ends meet, and offers some palliatives to the numbers. We are told, for example, that the new books and materials fee in fact brings the rate to a cost recovery basis. However, we are not told how this rate applies to different courses or faculties, and if it is being increased due to an inordinately high rate in some courses.

This could be the case. For example, many of the COMP courses [specifically COMP 200] do not come with any materials at all – not one text book or reader – but just a link to use the course manual and study guide online. Surely those materials are quite cheap to produce, and the materials fee is therefore excessive. Other courses, however, come with a great bundle of books, many of them pricey hard-covers, but the materials fee is the same.

AU is quick to point out that they are still taking a loss on the costs of the intellectual property fees incurred in creating materials, and certainly it does cost quite a bit to have professors write and design courses, but isn’t this something that is included in the costs of any university? To me, the time spent on creating study guide materials is commensurate with the time a professor in a regular university spends preparing lectures and classroom handouts. It is an integral part of the job. Also, the more students who take a course, the lower the cost per student will be, since the same materials are used over and over. Given that AU has one of the largest student populations in Canada, they must have many courses that have massive enrolment, which would therefore offset much of the materials creation fees. Using online materials in these cases would render the materials fees almost non-existent.

Besides, I have also noted over the past 5 years that I am getting fewer and fewer books with my courses, which makes the value somewhat less than it once was. Often, textbooks seem to be discontinued in favour of AU produced course readers, and individual books are replaced with large compilations, as I have noted in some of the English courses. I don’t mind reading a poem or short passage in a Norton Anthology type reader, but I suspect I’m not the only one who finds it impossible to read the book length passages from those semi-transparent, onion skin pages with the smudgy 6 point font.

In most of my English courses I have had to go out and purchase a number of the works in cheap pocket book format anyway.

Also, given that books fees are included, and AU indicates that they have in the past taken a loss on books, I cannot help but wonder if professors often find they are forced to select fewer, or lower quality texts for their courses in order to keep costs low. Admittedly, in a regular university where the student must carry all of the text book costs, some tutors might conversely become overzealous in their materials selection and place an undue financial burden on the student. I’m not sure if there is a happy middle ground for this situation.

Another sugar-coating offered by AU is the assurance that the increase in tuition still leaves us paying the lowest tuition rates in Alberta.

This may be true, but it assumes that you only look at tuition, and do not take into account varying book fees. It is true that at the U of Calgary, Alberta or Lethbridge, you have to pay a significant amount on books for all courses, but that amount does vary greatly and you can somewhat control your book costs by ascertaining which courses are particularly costly on books before enrolling. If you still can’t afford books, you have the option – and I know students who have done this – of not buying the books, but using copies from the university library instead.

With items of restricted circulation this can mean a lot of long hours in the library and it’s certainly not convenient, but it is an option. Alternately, you may also choose to purchase second-hand books from the book resellers on the library campus. You can even share books with another student in the same program for trade books back and forth with other students in your faculty. In other cases, you may buy only some of the required books, and rely on libraries or friends for those you are missing. There are a number of ways to avoid paying for books in a traditional university, although I admit it is much more convenient to have your own copies of those books.

Realistically, with tuition skyrocketing many students have no choice but to forgo convenience and instead may choose to make other sacrifices – such as increased library dependency – so that they can continue their educations. The number of options is as varied as the number of students at AU. I, for example, live in a two student household; My husband also attends Athabasca University. While the two of us are taking different degrees with different majors, and our courses seldom overlap, we have over the course of our time at AU taken courses that the other has already completed. In these cases we’ve had to pay for two full sets of textbooks and materials, with no opportunity to return the second set.

The materials fee is what makes the most difference, and it can work in your favour, or to your detriment depending on your situation. To compare, the tuition for a single course at the U of Calgary, including fees, is $488.50, at the U of Lethbridge it’s $474.59 and at the U of Alberta it is $477.20. In all three of these schools, the fees level off as you take more courses per semester, effectively reducing the per course costs for full time students by up to $40 per course [at the U of L].

By these standards, AU still comes out on top if you take into account book fees for the average course, but on a course by course basis some AU courses with few books may cost the most of all, and for those students who would forgo buying books to save extra money, AU is by far the most expensive.

I realize that it is not entirely AU’s fault – in fact the extremely low provincial funding they receive is has necessitated the raise in tuition more than anything else. However, by forcing AU students to purchase books whether they need them or not made place an undue financial burden on the very poorest students who are otherwise accustomed to sacrificing book ownership to save money and buy more courses.

There are also the smaller hidden costs to go along with attending a somewhat less known university. For example, I was recently pricing the Microsoft Office software package, which is required for a number of AU courses. The university of Calgary, being a very prominent university in this country, has acquired a special deal whereby their students, and only their students, can purchase the software package for only $130.00. AU students, however, must pay the more common academic rate of $310.00 for the same software through the AU Bookstore. I don’t think I’m the only student at AU who has had to forgo certain courses because I cannot afford the software.

Similarly, the course fees at the other major universities come with some bonuses, such as athletic facility membership and health and dental insurance programs. These are benefits that AU students lack, and areas where the university saves. I won’t even get into the dramatic savings made by AU for not having to maintain a massive building and hundreds of classrooms.

I should point out however that I do understand some of the rationale behind AU making students purchase course materials. AU’s materials are not simply textbooks; they take the place of lectures, and other in class teaching methods. It might be very difficult for a student to succeed in an AU course without the study guide and student manual, and these materials cannot be bought anywhere else or borrowed from libraries. However, as anyone who has taken a number of AU courses knows, the amount of material contained in these guides varies greatly. Some are little more than assignment manuals, while others contain a significant amount of teaching material.

Besides, textbooks are part of the non-negotiable course materials fees, and it would be nice to have an option should we have the textbooks, have a source for second hand copies, or wish to use library copies. It is also imperative if we are to have to pay for these textbooks and receive them through the university, that they be of the highest quality. I do not feel particularly fortunate to receive a single anthology in the place of a number of low cost pocket books which would many cases be easier to read. This is a personal preference, but one that I could more easily exercise at another university.

Mostly, my reaction to the new increase is tuition is a great sadness. Every year I see my degree slip farther and farther away, and the new rates are so high that I’m not sure when I’ll be able to afford a new course. Student loans have not been increased by any significant amount since I started in 1998, despite that 45% increase – what am I supposed to do?

:. And before you mention it, I’ve already considered dropping a flaming bag of dog poop on Ralph Klein’s doorstep, but I can’t afford the gas to Edmonton either:

Tamra Ross Low
Editor in Chief

NOTE: Am I the only one who totally hates the new AU Bookstore ( https://auburn.cs.athabascau.ca/forms/cmshop.htm) web page? You used to be able to see pictures of items on the main page, but now you have to click into each one. This is not an improvement: and it’s ugly! I sure miss the old website. It seems that the AU website is being systematically dismantled and some of the best pages are being downgraded or removed. It now takes me forever to find that wonderful registry services page where I can look up my course registrations and end dates. I’d like to know if students think that the recent ‘improvements’ to http://www.athabascau.ca are of benefit to you.