News  SSMU report details history of self-funded tuition model

Research explores connection between higher tuition and accessibility

A study commissioned by SSMU VP External Myriam Zaidi, released September 10, sheds light on the effects self-funded tuition models have had on the professional schools of two Ontario universities over the past decade.

The report finds that higher tuition at the University of Western Ontario medical school and the University of Toronto law school, on the heels of the deregulation of Ontario tuition for professional schools in 1997, resulted in more wealthy students and fewer poor students enrolling in the programs.

SSMU commissioned the report, written by McGill graduate student Rachel Gotthilf for a $500 fee, as lobbying firepower in the ongoing dispute over the steep hike in tuition for McGill’s MBA program. This past year, McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management raised MBA tuition from $1,700 to $32,500 in what Dean Peter Todd has called a “pilot project” of higher tuition models at McGill. Administration officials have consistently rejected claims that higher tuition will negatively affect accessibility.

Still, then Minister of Education Michelle Courchesne threatened to cut over $3 million from McGill’s general funding last April for violating Quebec’s policy of educational accessibility.

At the time Todd denounced the ministry’s plan for funding cuts as punitive. “Their [the provincial government’s] view is that other McGill students should pay for this, and we don’t think that is correct or appropriate,” he told The Daily. “Unfortunately, it is likely that the MBA will continue to be subsidized by other students at McGill, a situation we believe is unjust and needs to be changed.”

When Ontario deregulated professional school tuition, the cost of professional programs (dentistry, medical, law) skyrocketed. At Western, medical school tuition increased by 40 per cent to $14,000. Administration officials there argued that the increase was justified because of “higher earnings expectations,” the report found.

Zaidi pointed to this as evidence of an impulse on the part of the administration to expand the use of self-funded models, in which the cost of a program is paid for by tuition rather than government subsidies, into other faculties at McGill. “The motivation behind the shift to a self-funded tuition model in law, and medicine [in Ontario] are the same with the MBA,” she said. “[The report] tells us it’s not a question of the program, it’s a question of ideology.”

The report goes on to detail the changing economic character of Western students after tuition deregulation. The study claims “as tuition increased over a four year period, the average annual family income of medical students increased from $80,000 to $140,000.” The report also cites studies showing that the proportion of medical students coming from families with incomes of less than $40,000 across Ontario dropped “dramatically,” from 23 to 10 per cent in the years following tuition deregulation.

The percentage of students who were the first from their family to attend a professional school decreased with the tuition hike, the report shows. A 2005 StatisticsCanada study cited in the paper found that after Ontario’s 1997 deregulation, the children of parents with graduate or professional credentials became twice as likely to enroll than before, while the enrollment of students from families without credentials remained relatively unchanged.

Around the same time, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law doubled its tuition. Administrators there sought to offset adverse effects on accessibility through a series of measures, including massive increases in financial aid, the expansion of internship programs, increased student-professor ratios, and a retroactive student aid policy for graduates entering the non-profit sector and earning less than $45,000 a year.

According to the Desautels Faculty Management’s Director of Marketing and Communication Ron Duerkson, the faculty is “currently finalizing funding and scholarship options specific to those in the non-profit sector,” although he declined to provide specific figures, saying that the options would be available starting next fall.

Officials at the Faculty of Management’s career planning service were unable to provide numbers as to how many of McGill’s MBA graduates go into the non-profit sector, but maintained that the number was relatively small. According to employment data from the faculty, the average yearly salary upon graduating from the MBA program is $79,000.

Zaidi insisted that the number of graduates going into the non-profit field was irrelevant. “Without a doubt, some students will not have the freedom to pursue an MBA at McGill because of their household’s income, which goes against the model that Quebeckers opted for, a model focused on accessibility,” she wrote in an email to The Daily.

—With files from Eric Andrew-Gee