Cutting tuition wouldn’t translate to more affordable education

Looking at why slashing university costs isn’t what it’s shaped out to be

Wilson argues that free tuition only decreases the quality of academic institutions, without allieviating any major finanical burden for students.
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While on the surface free tuition for all post-secondary students seems like a progressive change, as a whole, it wouldn’t make a difference in the overall quality of education at Canadian universities. 
 
The benefit to cutting tuition at universities is supposedly to reduce student debt and help low-income students achieve their goal of higher education. But tuition isn’t the main barrier financially insecure students face. 
 
A recent survey conducted by Maclean’s shows that Canadian students typically spend an average of $19,498.75 per year on their overall education. 
 
Tuition accounts for just 30 per cent of that cost. 
 
The remaining costs associated with attending university—textbooks, school supplies, transportation, food and rent—make up the remaining 70 per cent. If tuition were free, this equate to roughly $12,000 a year that Canadian students would still have to cover themselves, leaving those from low-economic backgrounds in similar financial situations as before. 
 
That said, cutting tuition would certainly lessen a small portion of the financial burden most students face. However, removing that cost completely also removes the financial motivation many students use to work and excel academically in school. 
 
Without having to pay for their education, students might feel less inclined to push themselves in the classroom because they wouldn’t face any financial consequences for failing. This lack of motivation could make students undervalue their degree, and possibly impact their likelihood to graduate. 
 
In Germany, there’s no tuition fee for entering post-secondary education. But according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, only 35 per cent of German students who enroll in higher education end up graduating with a degree. In Canada, within six years of enrollment, the graduation rate for students in post-secondary is 56 per cent, showing a correlation between financial incentive and academic success. 
 
Beyond graduating rates relative to education costs, implementing a free tuition system would also hinder the quality of education at Canadian universities. Many institutions rely on student tuition as their major source of revenue to help cover costs of different programs, extra-curriculars and research. 
 
At Queen’s, the government only funds part of the university’s costs, with 60 per cent of the 2018-19 university operating budget coming from student tuition and fees.  
 
Putting the burden on tax payers could result in a strained school budget, expanding class sizes, and the slashing of specialized academic programs and necessary services—like mental health resources—in order to accommodate budget cuts. 
 
Canada’s the most educated country in the world with 60 per cent of adults obtaining some sort of post-secondary education. Queen’s students, among other university students in the country, rely on university-funded programs and resources to differentiate themselves before entering the job market.
 
Involvement in university-funded extracurricular programs also gives students the opportunity to build their resumes and further develop real world skills such as time management, organization and leadership—something we can’t learn in an over-packed lecture hall. 
 
Overall, cutting the cost of tuition is not an effective long-term and sustainable solution for the issue of post-secondary education affordability. 
 
Assuming the current number of students enrolled in post-secondary institutions doesn’t increase, the estimated cost for cutting all tuition at Canadian universities would be approximately $1.3 billion a year. Tuition would still have to be paid—it’d just come from the pockets of tax-payers, not students.
 
If the government wants to effectively create opportunity for low-income students, they should consider redirecting bursaries, scholarships and grants to accommodate housing, school supplies and any other necessary costs associated with attending university.
 
Another way to maximize student enrollment and minimize student debt could be done through implementing a loan system similar to Australia’s Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). This program requires no repayments during the course of study, and only once the student is earning a certain annual income are payments required.
 
These income-contingent loans allow low-income students to attend school without worrying about their ability to repay student debt. This may push them to pursue a higher education that could possibly earn more and contribute back more to the economy. 
 
Implementing a similar system in Canada would serve similar financial benefits for low-income students, and maintain Canadian universities’ main source of revenue—therefore maintaining a higher quality of education. 
 
Although students could always benefit from reduced post-secondary costs, the tuition system in place for Canadian universities generally allows people of all socioeconomic backgrounds to benefit from higher education and university-funded programs and resources.
 
Going forward, the discussion surrounding free-tuition and supporting students of lower socio-economic status should provide solutions which support university revenue and cutting student’s costs—not one or the other. 
 
Laura Wilson is a second-year Geology major. 

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