Students, hold onto your wallets. A report from Statistics Canada indicates that Saskatchewan students in both undergraduate and graduate programs have seen the largest percentage increase in tuition costs for the 2014–15 academic year.
Issued on Sept. 11, the report indicates that Saskatchewan undergraduates saw a rise of four per cent in tuition fees compared to an average overall bump of 3.3 per cent across Canada. The change brought the average tuition paid by Saskatchewan undergrads up from $6,402 for the 2013–14 academic year to $6,659 in 2014–15. The increase also puts Saskatchewan at the second highest overall costs in Canada, second only to the $7,539 that Ontario undergraduates pay.
For comparison, the cross-country average tuition rate for undergrads increased from $5,767 in 2013–14 to $5,959 for the current academic year.
The rate of inflation between July 2013 and July 2014 was measured at 2.1 per cent.
Newfoundland and Labrador ranked lowest, as the province’s ongoing tuition freeze — established in the 2003–04 academic year — has kept their rates locked in place for over a decade.
The news will hit especially hard for Saskatchewan graduate students. Though their fees are less expensive than those of undergrads, settling at $3,796 for 2014–15, graduate programs did see a higher average increase at 5.2 per cent.
Saskatchewan graduate students rank much lower in average overall tuition fees across Canada, however, landing third lowest in cost. Only Quebec, at $2,821, and Newfoundland and Labrador, at $2,506, ranked lower than Saskatchewan in graduate tuition costs. As with their undergraduate fees, post-graduate tuition in Newfoundland and Labrador has been frozen at its current price.
International undergraduate students in Saskatchewan saw the trend continue in their fees, which rose 7.7 per cent over the last year in comparison to the national average of 5.3 per cent in 2014–15. This percentage is lower, however, than the 6.8 per cent mean increase seen in 2013–14. On average, the cost of tuition for international students in Canada came in at $20,447 for the current academic year.
Tuition fees for international graduate students rose 3.3 per cent nationally, bringing the average total cost up to $13,934.
The University of Saskatchewan’s deans’ council has established a set of three guiding principles which are adhered to as tuition rates are decided, including comparability with similar schools, accessibility and affordability as well as the quality of the student experience.
Ernie Barber, interim provost and vice-president academic of the U of S, commented on the issue and assured students that tuition rates at the university are in line with comparative institutions in the U15 — a group of 15 Canadian universities committed to public research.
“On a program by program basis, we’re trying to have our tuition be around the median of the U15 universities with some western university comparators thrown in there,” Barber said. “Despite the fact that Stats Canada reported that we had the highest increase… that doesn’t mean that we have the highest tuition. Our tuition fees, even with the increases, are about where we intended them to be set.”
Tuition, which accounts for roughly $115 million of the university’s operating grant each year, is generally untrackable as it is distributed within the university. However, Barber said that some colleges were granted permission to increase their tuition rates specifically so that the added funds could be used to better their students’ experience.
With tuition on the rise, questions of affordability for students are bound to crop up. Barber insisted that increases in tuition are not outside the realm of affordability and, on the contrary, may actually be making post-secondary education a more attainable goal for those with lower incomes.
Of the $115 million coming in from undergraduate and post-graduate tuition, Barber said that roughly $40 million is put back into student funding through awards, bursaries and scholarships — $12 million of which is specifically doled out to undergrads. Barber believes that this approach, alongside procuring funding for students through government and private sources, is crucial to keeping post-secondary education affordable.
“I think that how you make education affordable is not through the tuition fees alone but rather it is through that financial support that you provide through students who need it. I believe that post-secondary education is both a personal good and a public good,” Barber said. “There are, right now, a significant number of students for whom the cost of tuition is absolutely not the limit. It’s not that university is not affordable; it’s that university is not affordable to some. There are a significant number of students, without question, for whom I understand affordability is a question for them, and I think that the way to get at that is to work with government and to work with donors and to look at our own budget and provide more financial support for those students rather than trying to drive tuition fees down to the absolute minimum.”
Admitting that “it would be unreasonable to imagine that tuition fees are not going to continue to increase across the country,” Barber said that the university is always keeping an eye on cost drivers to ensure tuition retains affordability without effecting quality.
“Our students want to have the best possible experience. Rushing to the bottom in terms of cost is also going to rush to the bottom in terms of quality,” Barber said.
First year arts and science student Mikayla Loube, who has been granted $23,000 in scholarships to help pay for her schooling, admitted that she is one of the lucky few for whom increased tuition will be less of a burden.
“I feel like it’s really hard for people to afford it, especially when they’re on their own. Some people are lucky, their parents are paying for their schooling. Other people are working part time jobs or taking a year off to save up,” Loube said. “It helps me out a lot knowing that I’m not going to have to struggle for money in that way.”
Brendan Swalm, who is working on his master’s degree in English, would like to see greater insight into how his tuition dollars are being spent.
“I don’t know where my money is going,” Swalm said. “I don’t know if that information is available to me in a way that’s enlightening.”
Barber said that future tuition rates will be discussed earlier on so that students will have more advance notice on how their fees will change moving forward, with that intention possibly becoming a reality as soon as the 2015–16 academic year.
Graphic: Stephanie Mah/Graphics Editor