HIGHER COSTS, HIGHER EDUCATION?

You want to know something crazy? At this time 10 years ago, I was a Gael and an orientation leader at Queen’s. I was in second-year at Queen’s. Man, it’s been a wild decade or so.

Those were almost halcyon days when it came to how much one year of Queen’s cost. Aside from my first year – the most expensive year for any student – it was, all told, a pretty reasonably priced experience.

At least, when you compare it to today’s costs. I have tremendous sympathy to those students going into undergraduate studies nowadays – all the worst fears many folks had about rising costs of university back in my day at Queen’s have come true.

Fast fact: back in 1997 when I was a first-year student, the whole experience – tuition, the student activity fee, residence, computer, travel costs, et al – was roughly about $13,000, give or take a few hundred. After that, costs only went down: the computer lasted for years, rent, utilities and food were significantly cheaper (and better) than in residence and tuition rose roughly at the cost of inflation.

Of course, alarm bells were sounded, I recall, when Queen’s was given permission by the Harris Government to de-regulate Commerce and Engineering.

Now, check these prices out for one year of study at Queen’s. Bear in mind two factors: one, this doesn’t include computer costs, travel costs and recreational spending, and also that real incomes have not risen in any substantive or meaningful fashion now for over twenty years. These figures are from the Queen’s Registrar’s web site and take into account tuition costs, the student activity fee and the Student Assistance Levy.

Applied Science – $8,528.52
Arts and Science – $5,626.64
Commerce – $11,387.83 (!)
Education – $5,537.83
Nursing – $5,670.83
Phys. Ed – $5,630.90

You think those numbers scream “inaccessibility?” Wait for residence…

Single room/meal plan – Main Campus: $9,627.00
Double room/meal plan – Main Campus: $9,527.00 (wow, a difference of a whole $100.00!)
Triple room/meal plan – Main Campus: $8,927.00

So let’s see: you’re a Commerce student coming in front a small Ontario town. Here’s how much you’ll be paying for your first year of study, under the least tolerable triple room plan, and not taking into account your computer you’ll have to have as part of the Commerce program, or any travel costs associated with going home for Thanksgiving or the holidays, or, you know, going out once in a blue moon:

$20,314.83

Wow. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.

This is just horrific. But wait Greg! What about bursaries, loans or grants?

Sure, there’s OSAP and private bank loans alright. And Queen’s, under this deregulation plan, made commitments to “needs-blind” accessibility (God I got so tired of hearing that phrase) that involves earmarking a larger percentage of funds to needy students.

Thing is, and this is the unfortunate down side of de-regulation, those bursaries are largely earmarked for poorer students. The vast, vast, vast majority of Queen’s students (even if some of them pretend to be rich while on campus to keep up with the Leaside-Rosedale-Westmount Crowd) are middle class kids, i.e. unqualified applicants for free money.

I’m not going to wax philosophical about why this is a profoundly lousy system for students entering the system now. The numbers speak for themselves. But it really does feel like even though my generation of Queen’s students did win a few battles against de-regulation, like Arts and Science students taking the administration on through a referendum vote, we really did allow future Commerce and Engineering students to bear a much more serious financial burden than we ever did. Did we fight hard enough?

Maybe the arguments in favour of de-regulation are, in fact, holding true: the higher costs are paying for far, far superior resources and professors than any previous generation of business and engineering students ever had. Maybe that’s true, who knows. It’s really impossible to tell – just because Commerce students have a sweet building in Goodes Hall and Engineering students have resources now that are just plain astounding doesn’t mean they’re getting better or more talented at their chosen fields. People ultimately form the basis of any profession, not what goes into it.

Just something to think about as a new school year starts.

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