Project would give students more perspective on tuition increases
The University of Saskatchewan is taking steps to improve students’ experience with tuition rates, but they aren’t enough according to U of S Students’ Union vice-president academic Desirée Steele.
The university Board of Governors announced via press release on Jan. 14 that the 2015–16 academic year will see an on average tuition rate increase of 2.4 per cent across colleges for undergraduate students. Administration has emphasized how the delivery of this news, which comes two months earlier than it has in prior years, will help students in planning for their futures on campus. Steele believes more can be done and is pushing for tuition forecasting to be implemented by the 2016–17 academic year.
The USSU is “putting pressure and encouraging the administration and those relevant to determining tuition rates to take the necessary steps to have that information in place,” Steele said. “Just as we provide an operating forecast and we have an operating forecast out to five years for the entire university, it doesn’t make sense to have a multi-billion dollar budget without having some years in advance planned. We want to see that kind of planning put toward tuition rate increases.”
Tuition forecasting is a concept which would see the university providing an estimated outline of tuition increases for the coming years. While the timeline of this estimate could vary — Steele offered up five-year cycles and four-year projections, perfect for incoming students planning out a four-year bachelor’s degree, as examples — the proposal would supply students with a level of insight into university projections much greater than what is provided by pushing up the announcement of tuition increases by two months.
Using this model, the university would be able to provide “an estimate of how much tuition would need to increase and that would be delegated to a college level in the year term, with responsibility centred management coming on as a budget model,” Steele said. “But the idea is to improve on the accessibility principle by giving students a better assessment of what their education will cost.”
While tuition forecasting seems like a largely positive concept, it is not without roadblocks that could make it difficult for the university to make it a reality. The U of S funds over 60 per cent of its operating budget through provincial grants — a procedure that many universities across Canada adhere to — and thus could come across difficulty in predicting changes in their budget without knowing what they’ll be awarded in grants.
Steele, however, says that money coming in from the government will not affect the cost of tuition at the U of S.
“Our university administration, unlike that in Regina, has made a clear statement that tuition will not fill up the gaps in an operating budget from shortfalls that they thought the government would give them,” Steele said. “That’s part of why the tuition announcement was two months early this year.
“In order for tuition forecasting to happen, some people would say, ‘We don’t know how much money we’re getting in the grant, so how can we possibly forecast that?’ The university is trying to say that it takes the initiative to set its own tuition rates, so it does have a certain amount of control.”
Steele is enthusiastic that the project will find its footing in time for their proposed implementation deadline.
“We’ve had positive feedback on the idea from those people who deal with the numbers themselves, she said. “There’s definitely a lot of details to be worked out, but it’s something that the USSU has decided needs to be feasible, so we’re going to encourage people to make it so.”
In the meanwhile, Steele emphasized the importance of student consultation during the tuition evaluations.
“Student consultation is supposed to happen with students, especially about the accessibility and quality aspects that the U of S uses to set tuition… There were concerted efforts made in different colleges this year, but I also know that there are also gaps and there are definitely improvements to be made,” Steele said. “I would encourage students who have thoughts on the processes that did or didn’t happen to contact me, send me an email, even a Facebook message.”