26 September 2007

Class is in session

A number of students rallied outside Premier Dalton McGuinty's office yesterday. Like many students across Canada, they were kicking and screaming about tuition fees. As I made a promise to spice up the controversy, here is one for you: these students need to shut up and deal with it. Quite frankly, I sick and tired of their nagging.

McGuinty promised to freeze tuition in the 2003 election. The fact that he only did so for 2 years and then broke his promise is really an aside to the current provincial election. Statistics regularly show that the lowest voter turnout is in the 18-25 year category. In other words, students. Voter apathy is at an all time low, and students are the barnacles on this sinking ship. They don't vote, so why would politicians care about their views. Politicians are simply going to stamp around on stage and decry that education is the stalwart of a strong economy, so we need to make it affordable to every family by freezing tuition.

We rarely hear the opposite side of this argument however. The fact is that non-tenured professors, which make up a large portion of the professors teaching undergrads, are poorly paid. At schools across Canada facilities are old and decaying. Class sizes are too large. So basically, you get what you pay for. With what funds are schools expected to maintain their competitive advantage if their income - i.e. fees - are decreased or frozen?

But Richard, this is where government intervention could help; all we have to do is subsidize schools. Throwing money at schools is not going to solve the problem - schools will appropriate the funds for their own use, which may not be towards the benefit of students. The fact of the matter is that with tuition at an average of $4,300 for 2006/2007 (Stats Canada), post-secondary education is not expensive. If the average degree is 4 years, that is approximately $18,000 for a world class education. Study after study demonstrates that a university degree will allow a student to earn hundred of thousands of dollars more in the course of their life. So for those liberal arts gatecrashers, by investing $20,000 in yourself, you stand to earn about 10 times that amount versus if you hadn't gone to university.

What seems to be the problem here? Tuition fees have increased at about 7.8% since 1990 (Stats Canada), which is higher than inflation. Ok, I'll give you tuition shouldn't outstrip the consumer price index. Again though, there is a operational reason for this change. University enrolment is up across the board, as University becomes a more necessary step in attaining a good job.

Student groups like to point out that tuition has more than tripled or doubled - or whatever numbers they cite - in the last number of years. See this page: http://www.ousa.ca/sef/page/id/38.html

But how relevant is this information? Our parents didn't need university. It is a simple fact. Students now need university - or at least college (I am actually a firm believer that more students should attend college where they earn a practical education).

This blog is sounding as though I am a old time crank who is telling the kids to suck it up. In a way, yes I am saying that - lazy bums. But I am in favor of a fair and workable solution for both sides. I think that government has a huge role to play. I don't think tuition is the issue. If the average debt is $28,000 and the average tuition for 4 years is less than $20,000 where the hell is the other $8,000 coming from. Housing and living costs, I presume. Governments need to focus on providing quality affordable housing to students.

More to the point, government can help by engaging industry. The bottom line is that students with both sound financial sense (either them or their parents) and a good summer job can walk away from an undergraduate degree with little to no debt. More than ever, students need summer jobs - not to mention jobs during the school year - which provide them with solid practical experience and a good wage. Most students either end up with crappy paying summer jobs, or working somewhere that is not related to their future career. These later students graduate from university without the practical experience to get a job.

In the end, this is a problem that doesn't require simple solutions such as "freeze tuitions" or else we won't vote you - and we just won't vote anyways. It is about giving students the tools to make their university experience worth while financially. Of the students lining up at McGuinty's office, how many had savings from high school jobs? How many parents set up savings programs for them when they were young.? Is the government working to provide low interest loans to these students? Believe me, $25,000 in debt is not much of a burden to have to pay for your education students. Consider it to be a reason not to buy a car as soon as you graduate and keep yourself from making a stupid financial decision.


Anonymous said...

here here richard... bout time someone said it

Anonymous said...

The government is lending $$ to students, but is also trying to encourage them to SAVE money for their post-secondary education. The goal is to get kids (and parents, of course) to start early and get in the habit of planning and saving for later goals. It will only help them in the long-run. Even lower-income families can save, and every little bit helps. I'm speaking from experience; we were poor, my parents still managed to save. They didn't buy beer, new cars, or go on vacations, but they managed to help me get through school. I still had a $40K student loan over 5 years, but, thanks to my education, I have a good job I wouldn't have had otherwise. And my loan will be paid off in 3 weeks...and counting.