Fall 2004 - Volume 7 Number 4
Tuition and Funding Freeze Cannot Cool the Burn of Ancillary and Other Student Fees
, Dipl., (CIM)
In a year full of government promises and with the dawn of a new healthcare premium by our Ontario Government, many felt that the election promise of a funded tuition freeze would fall by the wayside. To many of the critics' surprise, the tuition freeze was not only implemented, it was funded at a fair level.
On the surface, the freezing of tuition seems like a benefit for students, but it has actually exposed a rarely talked about and well hidden problem in the post-secondary system the impact of economic principles on post-secondary education. This problem has two dimensions: first the impact of the allocating scare resources to satisfy unlimited wants and, second, the confusing ancillary fees policy, and lack of a policy regulating other costs that will remain in effect for this year as a coping mechanism in light of scare resources.
If you pick up any economics textbook, the first sentence you are likely to read is "economics is the study of allocating scarce resources to satisfy unlimited wants." This is a concept well known to college system in Ontario. This year, Ontario's college students continue to be funded by the government at the second lowest level per student in Canada at approximately $4,680. If it wasn't for the one time Northern and Rural stabilization grant of $25 million that was sparsely allocated across the province to all colleges, per student government funding, like the tuition fees, would also have been frozen.
The chronic under funding of the college system is nothing new, and has become epidemic. According to a report released by the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology, Investing in Ontario's Workforce, "Ontario's colleges are educating students for 70 cents on the dollar from the rate they were 15 years ago, when inflation is taken into account" (ACAATO, Investing in Ontario's Workforce, 2004, p. ii).
This has resulted in serious cuts to programs and staffing. During that same 15-year period, the number of full-time equivalent students increased from 119,363 in 1987 to 177,659 in 2002 (ACAATO, Environmental Scan 2004, Learners and Learner Profiles p. 4).
With this 48.8% increase in its student population, Ontario's colleges were compelled to serve these students with only 5851 full-time support staff, compared with 6063 in 1987. (College Compensation and Appointments Council College Annual Staffing Data) The number of full-time academic employees suffered an even greater decline. During the same 15-year period, the number of full-time faculty members decreased from 8354 in 1987 to 6391 in 2002, or 30.7% less.
If the college system were a third world country, it may choose to engage in unethical or illegal behaviours in an attempt to enjoy the standard of living that other "more important" countries (or government funded sectors) take for granted. In a recent article published by the Toronto Star, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities the Honourable Mary Anne Chambers herself doubts the willingness of Ontarians to pay more for education. In order to get post-secondary education funded to a level equal to the national average, the Minister estimated that it would cost Ontario taxpayers $1.5 billion more a year. The Minister, who represents the interests of Ontario's students to our elected members of parliament feels that funding post-secondary education at a level that is in the middle of the pack in Canada "…would be a hard sell to the people of Ontario when there are so many other costly priorities, such as health, which serves every (body) in the province." (Toronto Star, End in Sight for Tuition Freeze, August 8, 2004)
Last time I checked you cannot have a health care system without people willing and qualified to work in it. I don't know about you, but if I suddenly was put into a life and death situation and needed emergency care, I would like to know that the ambulance driver, the nurse, the doctor and all the other hard working professionals within the health care sector had received at least an average, post-secondary education. Without enough graduates from these and other important programs, Ontario can put all the money in the world into the health care system, but it will not serve "every body."
As for the second dimension impacting the post-secondary system, it probably would surprise many that colleges have been finding ways around government policy for years by continually increasing mandatory and non-mandatory ancillary fees and other fees charged to students at a rate far beyond the cost of living increases or inflation. I am not saying that charging students a nominal fee in return for a higher standard of service or new services that otherwise would not be provided is unethical or illegal behaviour. In fact, the ability to levy these fees have resulted in some of the most significant and beneficial services to students during that time. Without the ability to charge these additional fees, student governments would likely have to rely on a nominal transfer payment from the college, and would not have the ability to operate as their own autonomous organizations. Student governments would not have the ability to set levies at a level that they deem is appropriate. Students would also not likely enjoy the benefits of a health and dental plan, and less likely to have athletic programs or facilities on campus as these are not considered "core activities" within our institutions.
Currently in Ontario, college student governments have final approval on increases to mandatory ancillary fees. For example, if a college wanted to raise the fee charged for convocation ceremonies, considered an allowable mandatory ancillary fee in Ontario, it could not be done without the blessing of the student government. Non-mandatory ancillary fees and other costs associated with a post-secondary education such as parking, on campus housing, fees for transcripts, books, and even food in the cafeteria are not regulated in any way by the provincial government or local student government, and in most cases are approved by the college's Board of Governors or mangers of that particular area. So in a system where colleges have been asked to do more with less, where staffing levels have decreased, and student populations have increased, like anybody who is starving, institutions have done what they needed to do to survive by nickeling and diming, and in some cases, looneying and twoneying students at every opportunity that escapes the watchful eye of the provincial and student government. Like any person that has experienced a sharp decline in their standard of living over a substantial period of time, the colleges have, and will continue to find ways around government regulators unless the entire post-secondary education sector is given a greater priority by not only the general public, but those that have been elected into office.
This year, the Ontario government funded the tuition freeze for the 2004-2005 year for the entire college system at $6.4 million. This meant that college students across the province were able to put $6.4 million back into their pockets. If full-time equivalent enrollment numbers predicted by the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (ACAATO) at 181,200 (ACAATO, Investing in Ontario's Workforce, 2004, p. v) are correct, this would result in an average savings to each Ontario college student of $35.32. With few provincial or student government controls over non-mandatory ancillary fees or other fees such as on campus housing, parking, fees for transcripts, books, and food in the cafeteria, the majority of students will easily end up paying significantly more then the $35.32 they will save with the tuition freeze this year.
Even when colleges and students work together in an attempt to rebuild their crumbling infrastructure in a democratic and transparent fashion, this is not deemed to be acceptable in the province's eyes. Recently, the student government at Algonquin College worked with college administrators to develop a fee to help rebuild some of the programs and services that have been cut or discontinued as a result of the chronic under funding by the province over the past decade. The "student priority fee" was to be set at $60 per term, per student. The proceeds from this fee were to be spent on priorities that were agreed on by the college administration and the student government that was democratically elected by all full-time students to represent their best interests. Priorities were to be identified through regularly scheduled open forums for students in all programs, and formalized by the student government. The province decided that although the process for implementing this new fee followed the fee protocol agreement that existed between the college and the student government, because the fee was going to be used to pay for capital projects such as building and information technology infrastructure, it does not fall under the approved fee structure fee and was disallowed.
Interestingly enough, due to government funding cutbacks in the early 1990's, colleges were successful in gaining Ministry approval to create a new mandatory ancillary fee called the technology fee. The technology fee is currently being charged in all of Ontario's 24 colleges, with a price tag between $35 and $100 per student, per term. In most colleges, this fee is used in part or wholly to fund information technology infrastructure improvements. It is also perfectly acceptable to charge students, and with the permission of the student government and the college Board of Governors to raise current fees or to create new fees to pay for student activities, capital and building including the costs related to the construction of a new student centre, athletics and recreation programs, running an alumni association, on campus health services, student health insurance, student support and registration, graduation and convocation ceremonies, student bursaries and fundraising, and student identification cards. Although at least some of these sound like student priorities, it is not acceptable to charge a student priority fee. This leads me to believe that new mandatory ancillary fees, such as the Algonquin student priority fee, are not to be levied on students to fund information and technology infrastructure unless it is called a one of the following fees listed above. This makes perfect sense to me.
Beginning in 1998, Ontario's post secondary institutions were given permission by the government to charge market value for tuition in up to 15% of their programming. The deregulation of tuition fees resulted in the skyrocketing of tuition fees in programs of all disciplines. For example, Sheridan's College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning Computer Animation program increased tuition costs 480% to $8727 in 1998.
Another way that colleges have found to get around Ministry policy regulating tuition and ancillary fees is by requiring that students purchase or lease laptops from the college as a condition of enrolment. For example, at Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, students in 35 programs, including the seemingly non-technical Early Childhood Education program are required to pay between $725 and $850 per term. This fee is charged on top of regular tuition and ancillary fees. At Sheridan, students do not have the option of purchasing these machines upon completion of their program. Although the rental of these laptops is mandatory, the fees charged by Sheridan for the use of these laptops are not considered a mandatory ancillary fee and are allowed by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Some may say that this is mealy sidestepping current government policy and further downloading the high costs of technology onto students. The Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology, and the selection committee for the 2004 ACAATO awards did not feel this way. In fact, Kevin Constante, former Deputy Minister, Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Bruce Hodgson, Past ACAATO Chairperson, Martha Fletcher, Manager, Strategic Skills Investment, Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, John Saso, President Junior Achievement of Canada, and Susan Bloomfield, Past Chair, ACAATO Executive Committee felt that the mobile computing initiative at Sheridan was not only a good idea, it was worthy of the ACAATO Innovation Award at their annual awards ceremony. The group's innovation award "recognizes the contribution made by groups in the development and implementation of innovative programs and services that meet a need that was not being met. These initiatives will have improved accessibility for learners, enhanced their educational experience, improved the quality of student life, and/or increased support for learners at a college."
It is funny how on one hand the Ministry is supporting these new mandatory ancillary fees in the form of mandatory laptops, and recognizing this concept at a provincial level a while in other cases, colleges and student governments are prohibited from innovatively charging a fee to ensure that the most pressing student needs are being met.
Increases to fees have not been isolated to worst case scenarios. The majority of students have seen significant increases at all institutions over the past five-years. These increases have not come in the form of tuition or ancillary fees, but in the costs of living on campus. When the community college system was created in Ontario in 1966, it was never intended that students would live on campus. Colleges were not even allowed to build residences on campus until 1989. Today, almost every Ontario College has some form of on campus housing available.
Each year, the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal (ORHT), the Ontario government agency that regulates rental housing in Ontario, establishes the maximum amount by which a landlord can increase the rent for a current tenant without approval. Between 2000 and 2004 this allowable increase ranged from 2.6% to 2.9% for a total cumulative increase of 16% over the five-year period. Under current government policy, college residences are not regulated by the ORHT or any other rent control policy, and are allowed to establish rents based on supply and demand.
Unlike mandatory ancillary fees, student governments do not have the right to approve increases to these fees. Almost every college with a residence on campus during the first year of the tuition freeze, has chosen to raise their residence fees with the highest one-year fee increase in the system coming from Lambton College. Students at Lambton College wanting a single room will be paying $4400 for two-terms. Mandatory ancillary fees have also found their way into the residence fee structure. In addition to the $4400, students are required to purchase a $1,600 mandatory meal plan, and pay a $25 residence council fee, $25 administrative fee and $250 damage deposit. The residence fee alone, not including other mandatory ancillary fees for 2004-2005 is up $704 or 19% in one year and a whopping 47% over the past five years.
So in summary:
Most mandatory ancillary fees should be heavily regulated by the government because students have no choice but to pay them. The student representatives and college Boards have the right to increase these fees if they agree this is in the best interest of the students, but not to create new ones if it does not fit under the criteria for fees, unless it is called something else that meets the criteria or is approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Tuition should be frozen, but not non-mandatory ancillary fees, commodities, and services on campus that are run by the college that students are more than likely to need such as books, food, parking, and living. Colleges should supplement the lost funding over the last 15-years by charging the maximum rate that the market can bear in some areas, but not in others. We should celebrate and reward innovation for creatively avoiding government policy if it is in the form of a laptop, but not in the form of a student priority fee.
This is all quite confusing to me. Maybe I should go back to school now that tuition has been frozen for two years. As long as I don't park my car, eat or live on campus, or purchase any of the required textbooks I should be able to take that $35.32 that I saved and put it towards my portion of the new Ontario health care premium. I hope that the Ontario Health Insurance Plan will benefit everybody like our Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities said it would while covering treatments for burns. In spite of a slight cooling effect of a tuition freeze, it will not likely relieve the burns that will surely be left in students' pockets. Unless Bob Rae and the post-secondary review team can convince the people of Ontario that becoming average in educating our students is not only a good idea, but important to the future success of the province, all the freezes to tuition and reviews of post-secondary education in Ontario will not soothe the permanent scaring that has been left on students as the result of deep and continual cuts to post-secondary education.
Jon Olinski is a veteran of student government having been actively involved on local, provincial and national levels. Jon has a diploma in Business Administration - Management Studies and a certificate in Human Resources Management from Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. While at Conestoga, he served one term as Vice-President of Operations and two terms as President of Conestoga Students Inc. Jon also served as Vice-President Southwestern Region (2001-2002) and President (2002-2003) of the College Student Alliance. Jon has been with the Alliance as a full-time member of the Secretariat since 2003 and is its first Director of Advocacy. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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