Editorial Pages – Tuition!

Tuition!

The U of A has raised tuition again, as expected, and soon to follow, no doubt, is AU. But these aren’t cost-of-living increases, oh no, these are massive cost hikes that exceed inflation by 300% or more. Even with six years of part-time university under my belt, I have to admit that I don’t understand it.

I do understand that the cost of everything increases a little each year – hence the term “cost of living increase.” And I also understand that once in a while a business undergoes a significant shift in services or operations that might require a one-time larger increase to keep pace with upgrades. But what is the reasoning behind a yearly 6-7% increase in university tuition?

The universities state many reasons for this, but none of them quite wash with me. First, they talk about the cost of providing new courses. Fair enough; I understand that course development and the wages of qualified professors are very high. But aren’t universities constantly involved in the process of developing new courses? Our tuition was sufficient last year for the creation of several new courses, so why do they cost so much more this year, and every year? Is there a geometric progression in the cost of course development, or are we seeing more new courses each year than we did the year before? I don’t think so.

They suggest, also, that more money is required to hire faculty. This is necessary, they say, due to higher student numbers. Fair enough; I understand that skilled faculty are vital to the university and that student numbers continue to increase. But wait a minute, didn’t they have to hire new faculty last year, and the year before, and the year before that? Yes, AU is expecting about 10% more students this year, but we’ve had the same level of increase every year for the last several years. And doesn’t a 10% increase in students mean a 10% increase in tuition revenue? I mean, these new students aren’t attending for free, so it’s not like we need to subsidize them.

Finally, the universities have pointed out that course materials costs are constantly increasing. Once again, fair enough! The cost of textbooks is indeed rising, and AU does offer the boon of free textbooks with course registrations (well, not free, but “included” in the registration fee). But wait, the textbook fee is separate from tuition, so an increase in tuition should have nothing to do with book fees, at least not at AU.

Of course the biggest factor in rising tuition has been a decrease in government funding for universities, but should students bear the brunt of this shortfall, or should universities be seeking alternate sources of funding and leaving the students’ pocketbooks as a last resort? The better question is, does the university have a choice anymore? At what point does higher tuition mean that students begin abandoning their educations in droves, or consider a boycott? Given that the university relies so heavily on student income, they should be afraid, very afraid….

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