About 175 students gathered at Selkirk College’s Castlegar campus to protest proposed tuition hikes prior to the college’s board of governor’s meeting Tuesday night.
The students’ union collected more than 1,100 names on a petition rejecting this year’s proposed tuition fees at the college.
“I am overwhelmed by how much support we’ve received for this campaign,” said 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 Board of Governors decided on a two-per-cent increase for domestic students in an 8-3 vote. The province has set a limit on annual tuition increases at the rate of inflation up to a maximum of two per cent.
The increase will range from $65 to $125 per year depending on which program a student is enrolled in.
Rates for international students will be going up by six to nine percent, varying by program.
Rates for international students are not voted on by the board, as they are increased on a cost recovery basis and are not tied to the provincial government base grant.
The tuition hike only applies to new international students, currently enrolled students will not be subject to the increase.
The increase for international students works out to be about $500 a semester for most students.
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 catch up 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.
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.
With files by Betsy Kline