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Different tuition for different folks

Fees could soon be determined from projected earning potential

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Rough financial times could lead to drastic fee changes as early as Fall 2003 for University of Calgary students.

At the Nov. 30 Board of Governors meeting, U of C Vice-President Keith Winter indicated that discussions were held regarding the implementation of differential tuition as early as Fall 2002. The discussions did not convert to action, he said, "in response to student concern."

While next year’s crop of higher intellects may have avoided the axe, differential tuition fees for different programs is rapidly approaching reality.

"The university needs to look at differential fees as part and parcel of the financial challenges we are facing," said Dr. Ronald Bond, U of C Vice-President Academic.

Although differential tuition is becoming increasingly popular across the country, it presents many potential problems.

"My biggest concern is that the price of a degree will be out of the hands of a large portion of students," said Students’ Union VP Academic Nic Porco.

"That is a worry," agreed Bond. "I’m not keen at all at the prospect of putting up barriers to students from certain socio-economic backgrounds. That’s one of the reasons for ensuring needs based scholarships, bursaries and other forms of student aid are secured."

Though Bond did not reveal any definite strategies in place for securing said scholarships, both U of C President Harvey Weingarten and outgoing Chancellor Jack Perraton made public declarations of commitment to fundraising for student financial aid initiatives, also at the Nov. 30 BoG meeting.

Currently, the U of C is investigating the various methods of implementing differential tuition at Canadian post-secondary institutions and deciding which model best suits their needs.

"We are at the next best thing to square one," said Bond.

At many universities with differential fees, each faculty is required to direct a percentage of their total revenue from tuition to student aid. The rest is directed depending on the model being followed and so does not necessarily result in more or less revenue for individual faculties. However, faculties with high fees are able to offer more in scholarships and bursaries to their students.

Porco is worried high fees for some faculties will discourage potential students regardless of scholarship possibilities.

"If I was looking at a university and I saw the tuition was $13,000, I wouldn’t apply," said Porco. "I think the sticker shock would stop me from applying."

Significant research remains to be done concerning how changes to the tuition structure will affect potential students’ perception of the university.

"We haven’t really had an opportunity to check with places where differential fees are in place," said Bond. "We don’t know if student demand [for high-priced faculties] has diminished."

Porco also worries about the effect of raising tuition in some programs while simultaneously lowering it in others.

"The cost of something to an extent does affect the perceived value," said Porco. "There is a perception that increased cost makes it a better good."

According to some existing models, the price of tuition in various faculties is determined by estimated earnings of program graduates. Other universities charge tuition based on the expenses related to offering the program.

"Using either model exclusively is not a good idea," said Porco.

Bond takes the view that the two are inextricably related.

"Some programs are more costly to run and these are often the professional faculties," explained Bond. "It so happens they also have fairly good earning potential."

As a result, students in sciences and professional faculties are likely to pay significantly more than those in languages and humanities.

"It’s a very tricky business to come up with the full cost for a program," said Bond. "There are different hidden costs for all the programs we offer."

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