Where do your tuition fees go?

Impossible to directly trace where student money is spent, vice-principal (academic) says

Credit: 
2005-06 Annual Report; Graph by B. Shiva Mayer and Katrina Ludlow

Students wondering how their tuition dollars are spent have their work cut out for them.

“You can’t trace your tuition directly, but what you can do is look at the big picture,” said Patrick Deane, vice-principal (academic).

Glenda Kaye, director of financial analysis and budget, said the budget isn’t designed to be able to track how much of a student’s tuition goes to what aspect of operating costs.

“Part of every dollar of tuition goes to finance every one of those line items, but tuition is not enough to finance any one of them. … You can’t really trace one dollar of revenue through to the expenses.” Instead, she said, all the University’s revenues are collected and then doled out for the necessary expenses.

The majority of the University’s total revenue—57 per cent—comes from grants and contracts, which includes government operating grants, health sciences grants and research grants and contracts.

Most grants and contracts come with restrictions on how the money can be used within the University, according to the annual report. Tuition accounts for 16 per cent of the University’s total revenue. Ancillary enterprises—all business-type entities on campus, including everything from residence and food services to the computer store, conference centre and parking lots—bring in 13 per cent of the revenue.

The total collected revenue—$678 million in 2005-06—is then distributed as necessary to fund the operating costs of the University.

“The majority of the costs are the salaries of the faculty members who teach our students,” Kaye said.

Salaries, clinical members’ fees and benefits comprise 58 per cent of revenue, or $371 million. Clinical members are positions which are joint-appointed at the Kingston General Hospital, Kaye said.

The money that pays salaries is divided almost 50-50 between administration and faculty, she said.

Another large item cost is space costs, which Kaye said includes the utility bills to heat and light all the buildings on campus, the cost of custodians and other people who are responsible for day-to-day campus maintenance, and insurance premiums.

Other costs include information technology expenses, keeping the library up-to-date, student aid and research costs.

Kaye said the University’s 2005-06 revenues totalled $678 million and expenses only came to $637 million. This doesn’t mean the University made a profit, she added. The funds are set aside for a specific purpose and will appear in the expenses for another year, she said.

The revenue from the recent tuition increases will be divided 70-30 between faculties and other operating costs, according to the annual budget report for 2005-06.

“It’s just a sharing mechanism,” Kaye said. “Faculties don’t pay their own utility bill and they don’t pay for salary increases.” Meanwhile, Deane said government grants are determined by student enrollment in specific programs.

“University revenue is principally derived from two sources: the provincial government grants, which are determined by a BIU [Basic Income Unit] depending on program,” he said.

“So, the government calculates the cost of educating a student in a particular program, and bases grant allocations on the number of students enrolled at a university in that program.”

A Basic Income Unit, currently $3,819.50, is the unit paid by the government towards students in each faculty. For example, each engineering student gets two BIUs, and each arts and science student gets one.

Deane emphasized that the University doesn’t increase enrollment to increase government grants.

“We’re not running a business; we’re running an educational institution,” he said. “We wouldn’t grow a program to increase the BIU and government grants, because it costs more to educate these students in those programs.”

In 1992, government grants made up 74 per cent of the University’s operating budget. Since then, government funding has decreased. Last year, grants covered 51 per cent of operating activity, with tuition fees accounting for 41 per cent of costs.

Deane said tuition increases have occurred because the University needs to make up for cuts in government funding.

“Students often think that when tuition goes up, they should see improvements directly,” he said. “However, what they don’t realize is that tuition is covering the gap between operating costs and government funding, so when tuition increases occur, students are often paying to maintain quality, rather than improve it.”

Because the University pools money into a centralized fund, students can’t trace how their tuition is spent.

“We don’t operate with money coming directly into a specific program and being spent within that program,” he said. “No university works like that. Money is portioned out from a general account, as needed by departments.”

Despite centralized distribution, Deane said some faculties, like applied science, have higher tuition to cover added expenses.

“Part of the difference in tuition costs comes down to different costs of operating,” he said. “Applied science has a particular level of technology and equipment required, and this is more costly.”

Deane said that although salaries are the largest cost every year, priorities for spending always changed.

“Priorities change, and they need to be evaluated each year, but there are some standard patterns for spending,” he said. “One priority is to rebuild departments hurt by cuts, like economics, where new staff are hard to find and faculty needs to be increased.” 

Every year, department deans submit funding requests to Deane’s office for review. Deane said funding decisions are ultimately made by the principal.

“I present my findings and recommendations, and ultimately it is the call of the principal, but she has a committee of [vice-principals] and financial advisors as well,” he said.

Last year, Deane said, the University set aside $2 million dollars for reinvestment in departments, and received more than $16 million dollars in funding requests. Despite the gap, Deane said Queen’s is financially healthy.

“Comparatively, in relation to other Ontario universities, Queen’s is in good financial shape, but we need more faculty, more space, more labs, more equipment,” he said. “We do have an excellent scholarship program, but we always need more money for schools and bursaries.”

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