Tuition–it’s time for a new strategy

By Greg Ellis

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

– Samuel Johnson, British writer, Lexicographer

Three years ago my university career began at The Haskayne School of Business. Three years ago, I encountered my first tuition protester. Much has changed in my three years. My precocious campus beginnings humbled by the surroundings of intellectual professors and an intellectual community. My convictions, influenced by our campus, flip flop between competing values–my views and my conception of self sometimes reduced to a fog. Yet one thing seems to have not changed–growing ever stagnant in its relentless platitudes and unwavering protest; approaching the limit of nonsense, the tuition fight seems stuck in the awkward stage of pre- pubescence. It continually cries wolf with plenty of people around but precious few who still care to listen.

Painting those who protest in a bad light requires diplomacy. Historically, protesters take on causes that matter, those they hold dear, and they institute change. To attack a protester is analogous to biting the hand that feeds you, but at least rhetorically, many of us are still famished. We are quick to think of tuition protesters as magnanimous, selfless, fighting the good fight so we don’t have to. Unfortunately, their defiant energy eludes any real progress.

Tuition protesters fight adamantly, each cry a testament to their cause. As you walk the campus they may be marching, they may be delivering a speech or often camping out–fittingly in protest–their energy presupposed as the impetus for change. Presumably, they would have made progress, yet their record suggests otherwise. Tuition has steadily increased since I began university three years ago, and has increased steadily since the university’s birth more than 37 years ago.

It is fair to say that tuition is a lost cause, and it is time to look elsewhere for our solution.

Sometimes our grand ideas grow beyond our own capacity to deal with them. Plaguing the tuition protesters is a bad case of self-delusion. Tuition protesters appear altruistic, however the conclusion materializes that they are also hopeless optimists. In many ways, their efforts in light of insurmountable adversity should be lauded, but it is time for a shift of strategy.

The solution lies in a new approach. One that calls for acceptance of the likelihood for rising tuition over time and a need for a fresh start. Beginning with an increased emphasis for high school students who are employed to tuck their money away, perhaps in a savings account with a government incentive associated with it. Increased programs on campus to help current students get jobs over the summer that pay well, well enough to support their education. Finally, compromise. However detestable it may seems, students may have to take two or three classes at a time, and work while in school hopefully in this process avoiding the burden of student loans.

With acceptance we gain insight. We lose the glazed over fervor and we realize we must channel our energies more effectively. We escape the meandering cause of tuition costs spiraling out of control and we look at simply being able to keep up with it. If students could earn a more substantial income, and were educated at younger ages about the importance of saving for post-secondary, the result may be surprising.

If we listen to history as our teacher we can conclude tuition increases are but a fait accompli. We are not giving up, we are only becoming more efficient. Bloated bureaucracies such as our university lack the quintessential feature of corporations profit motive. Without the motivation to lower costs they predictably run a system whose prices will rise. Their inefficiency is obvious and most likely irreparable ours however shouldn’t be.

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