Students at Selkirk College are protesting tuition hikes at the school.
The students’ union has collected more than 1,100 names on a petition rejecting this year’s proposed tuition fees at the college. The group planned to demonstrate against the increases at the school’s board of governors meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
“I am overwhelmed by how much support we’ve received for this campaign,” says Samson Boyer, a law and justice student and spokesperson for the Selkirk students’ union. “We’ve got more than half the student body who have signed on for this.”
The students say tuition fees have increased at Selkirk College every year for the last 16 years, outpacing all measures of the consumer price index, cost of living adjustment, standard wage scales and the provincial minimum wage.
The annual increase for domestic students is two per cent, a ceiling set by the provincial government more than a decade ago.
But for international students starting this year, the increase will be about nine per cent, which Boyer calls “just insane.”
Boyer says the increase is another step in making post-secondary education increasingly unaffordable.
“For me and many other members of the law program, this will mean a $120 increase just for next year,” he says. “What it means for many is they’re going to be in more debt when they come out of school… For some it means not going to school at all.”
Keeping up with inflation
Selkirk’s president says the college has little choice but to increase tuition rates this year. Provincial grants only cover about two-thirds of the cost of a Canadian student’s education, says Angus Graeme.
He says the college hasn’t had a core funding increase in more than a decade, and the provincially mandated two per cent increase for domestic students keeps the school in sync with the rate of inflation.
“I think all of us would love to see tuition a lot less for our young people, but the province hasn’t raised our provincial grant in a decade,” says Graeme.
“Students need and want more services, they want a quality learning experience, they want a credential that makes a difference that gets them closer to where they want to be, and we have a difficult time every year trying to figure out the funding for that.”
Wages make up three-quarters of the college’s $56-million budget, so salaries remain a prime driver of cost increases.
Graeme says the international tuition rate hasn’t gone up in several years, so the college is actually playing catchup with the rest of the province.
“I don’t think the public wants us to be subsidizing international students, at this time anyway,” he says. “We have raised [tuition] to a point where we are slightly cheaper than the nearest competition, which is the College of the Rockies and Okanagan College, so we continue to be a very affordable international option for students.”
The alternative would be to cut programs or services, he says.
But Boyer says the students want to impress on the college’s board of governors that they really can’t afford the increase.
“The well-being of this region in the long run depends on accessible post-secondary education and public policy that reflects that priority” says Boyer. “It’s time to do the right thing for students, prospective students, their families, and the communities they live in.”
Graeme says he’s more than willing to get together with the students’ union to discuss other ways of easing the financial burden on students.