re: J.R. Buhler’s Letter. Response from D. Abrioux

Response to J. R. Buhler’s letter by AU President Dominique Abrioux. Originally published in the Edmonton Journal on August 12, reprinted with permission of the author.

While I am very sympathetic to concerns around the escalating cost of post-secondary education, J.R. Buhler’s letter (August 10) concerning Athabasca University’s position on the proposed Alberta Tuition Fee Policy fails to recognize several extraordinary factors.

AU’s undergraduate tuition has gone from being the highest in the province (1995/1996) to the lowest (2003/2004) and is now a full $500 per year less than at the University of Alberta. Not once during these
nine years did AU increase its fees by the permissible maximum. This shift in tuition positioning coincided with dramatic growth, from 11,000 students to over 26,000.

Under the proposed policy, AU would be penalized for its commitment to accessibility and would be mandated significantly lower tuition fee caps in future years than other universities. Alberta Learning recognizes this undesirable outcome and is recommending that distance education courses be exempted from the cap provisions of the proposed Regulation.

AU supports this proposal. Otherwise, it will be forced to cap (even reduce) enrolment until its tuition fee revenue falls below the mark that would allow it to consider increasing fees by the maximum permissible at sister institutions. This would serve neither the students’ nor the institution’s needs. It would represents an even greater disservice to accessibility than tuition fee increases that, for strategic reasons, would not result in AU students paying higher fees than students at other Albertan universities.

Lastly, tuition fees are only one of three significant financial barriers faced by students, the other two being foregone income and relocation-related living expenses. In all cases, Athabasca University students are significantly less disadvantaged than students attending traditional campuses.

Dominique Abrioux, Ph.D.
Athabasca University