Principles tested in tuition decision

“A year like this really tests our resolve around the principles we claim we use to set tuition.”

By Colleen MacPherson

What Interim Provost and Vice-President Academic Ernie Barber is referring to are loud warning signs from the provincial government that this year's budget, scheduled to be delivered in March, will be a tight one. That message was reinforced with the announcement the government has put a freeze on hiring for non-essential jobs and on unnecessary travel. And all of this came at a time when the U of S Board of Governors was considering tuition rates for 2015-16.

Barber said even though there is a possibility the university's operating grant from the government will not include what he termed "the modest ask" detailed in the U of S 2015-16 operations forecast, he stressed the institution "does not set tuition fees to balance the books."

With that in mind, along with the long-standing principles of considering comparability, affordability and accessibility, and enabling quality, the board announced Jan. 14 that tuition for next year would go up an average of 2.4 per cent for undergraduate students. At one end of the scale, dentistry students' tuition will remain unchanged at $32,960 per year and at the other end, students in veterinary medicine will pay five per cent more, up to $8,680.

For graduate students, the majority of programs will see a two-per-cent increase. The biggest change will be for students in the master of professional accounting program where tuition will go up 5.6 per cent, to $19,000 from $18,000 last year.

Barber pointed out that deans and executive directors of schools are involved in setting tuition and that it is done on a program-by-program basis.

For the average undergraduate students, the increase means that a four-year degree program will cost about $25,000, not including expenses like books, accommodation and enrichment programs such as study abroad and experiential learning, said Barber.

Tuition revenue accounts for about 24 per cent of the all operating revenue for the university each year. The other 76 per cent comes from the Government of Saskatchewan, interprovincial funding, investments and other sources.

Barber said because tuition is part of the larger "envelope of funding we use to operate the university," it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what specific expenditures are paid for with the revenue "but a lot of thought is given to how increasing tuition can make this educational experience better for students."

In a media release Jan. 14, Desirée Steele, vice-president of academic affairs with the U of S Students' Union, said that while there was extensive consultation with students by senior administrators, including deans, prior to the tuition announcement, students remain concerned about a lack of visible improvement in the quality of their education.

"Especially after the take up of the university's incentivized faculty retirement program, we need to see the university supporting colleges and departments to both bolster existing faculty and conduct the necessary searches to bring new minds to the U of S," said Steele.

The students' union is also calling for tuition forecasting for the 2016-17 academic year. "We want students to know the potential cost of their education when they are thinking about attending the U of S," she said.