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Budget forecasts severe tuition increases

Part two of a four-part series: student aid still inaccessible

Click here to download the 2010-2011 University Budget

In order to achieve a break-even budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010-2011, McGill has attempted to diversify its revenues beyond government grants this year.
The main source of additional revenue for the University is tuition and other related fees, which are forecast to generate close to $173 million in FY2011, or 27 per cent of McGill’s total revenue. All tuition revenue goes to the unrestricted Operating Fund, and can be put to use anywhere in the University.

Provost Anthony Masi stated in an email to The Daily that while the dollar amount from the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) grant is increasing, the percentage amount is decreasing. To compensate for the dip in provincial funding, McGill is taking measures to increase its revenue through tuition hikes as well as raising enrolment in programs from the undergraduate to the PhD level.

Bad news for your pocketbook…

These tuition increases will equal $100 for students taking 30 credits – which only amounts to a $75 increases because $25 is “clawed-back” by MELS to support financial aid. Any additional changes will be made when the provincial freeze expires in 2012, at which point the province is expected to raise base-level tuition.

“We anticipate that the [provincial] government will move to further re-regulation [of tuition] after 2012 that will see some increases in tuition. The CREPUQ [Conférence de recteurs et des principaux des universities du Québec] has also issued a ‘common’ position on getting tuition in Quebec to the national average,” said Masi.

Tuition for in-province students at McGill stands at $2,068. The average in-province tuition at Canada’s other universities is now approximately $5,500. The administration has stated their desire to increase McGill tuition to the national average.

Tuition for “deregulated” international students will increase by ten per cent, eight per cent for those who started in the 2009-2010 school year.
In her November 2009 Economic Letter, principal Heather Munroe-Blum described Quebec’s tuition as “a significant problem.”

 …and your class-sizes 

The University has also been boosting its revenue through increased enrollment. This year and next year, undergraduate, graduate, and PhD enrollment are slated to increase by one per cent, 1.5 per cent, and almost four per cent respectively.

Increases in post-graduate enrolment serve a dual purpose for the University by bringing more money into graduate research programs, and increasing the revenue gained from research grants. Bolstering graduate programs also serves the administration’s objective of maintaining McGill’s reputation as a top research-oriented university.

“Most financial means come in the form of research grants, so it’s in the administrations interest to solve underfunding through the expansion of graduate programs,” said SSMU president Zach Newburgh. Research grants constitute 23.8 per cent of total annual revenue.

Problems arise with increases in tuition and student enrollment, however. The latter leads to larger class sizes and less student access to faculty. The administration hopes to avoid this scenario by increasing enrolment only in “programs with the capacity to receive” more students. Masi identified information technology, and agricultural and environmental sciences as programs with such capacity.

“We want to keep a relatively low undergraduate to tenure-track faculty ratio [and] try to reduce average class sizes,” said Masi. “We are also working to alleviate some capacity bottlenecks. For example, constraints on lab space in U0 science courses affect our ability to increase student capacity in engineering and allied health fields.”

Student aid: tough to get, tough to keep

Tuition increases have an adverse effect on accessibility, but Masi said McGill is hoping to counteract this effect by partnering tuition increases with increases in financial aid.

Masi has stated that he and principal Heather Munroe-Blum are “committed… to ensuring that 30 cents of every net new dollar in tuition revenues will go to student aid.”

In the 2010-2011 budget, the 30 per cent of net new tuition revenue dedicated to student financial aid amounts to $2.9 million, or about 1.5 per cent of total tuition revenue. The budget also states that 75 per cent of total student aid from the operating fund will go to graduate students, with 25 per cent going to undergraduates. Those figures exclude restricted and endowment funds that can be put specifically toward student aid.

But the numbers indicate that undergraduates are not receiving much in return for their increased tuition dollars, at least not in terms of student aid.
“There are unrealistic guidelines [to maintain scholarships],” said Newburgh. “There are more and more barriers.”

Aquil Virani, a U2 Arts student and Daily staffer, received an entrance scholarship of $2,500 per semester upon starting at McGill in 2008. To qualify for the scholarship he needed to have a 95 average in grades ten, 11, and 12 in high school, and then needed to maintain a 3.7 GPA in order to renew his scholarship each year.

“You can either go for it and get the 3.7, but not do much else, or actually have fun at university,” said Virani. “Holding someone to a 3.7 at McGill is restricting them.”

Virani noted a lack of transparency and flexibility in scholarship requirements. The renewal process for Virani’s schoarship neglected the effects of extracurricular activities on a student’s GPA. Virani said he tried to consult the Student Aid Office about re-working his scholarship requirements in order to accommodate extracurriculars, but met little success.

“It never went anywhere. I didn’t have any input [on my scholarship]. It was frustrating,” he said.

Virani further explained that his entrance scholarship rewarded extracurricular activities, but renewal of the scholarship was only based on GPA. “To have a 3.4 and do activities should be good enough for renewal,” he said.

Students paying for improvements to student life

The budget also states a commitment to “provide [the] highest quality support services to students and faculty.” How this will be achieved remains unspecified.

According to Executive Director of Student Services Jana Luker, 70 per cent of the student services budget is paid by the students themselves as part of their ancillary fees, with full time undergraduate students paying $133 per term and full time graduate students paying $125.50 per term. Roughly 15 per cent of the student services budget comes from the University’s operating fund.

“Students have to pay out of their own pocket for student services. The University is finding more and more ways to avoid footing the bill,” said Newburgh.

Other installments in this series:
Part 1 – Administration releases landmark budget; deficit to be eliminated by end of fiscal year
Part 3 – McGill stuck on deferred maintenance treadmill; admin using outside investments to pay for new property
Part 4 – McGill cycling out tenured professors to cut costs; Admin staff, salaries, on the rise