Tuesday, April 5, 2011

McGill Students Still Suck at Math

I posted a while back about the fact that McGill students have strong views about tuition that seems to be a bit reality-averse.  Well, the student newspaper is once again ignoring all the studies and is insisting that the well to do be subsidized by society:
Exclusivity in post-secondary institutions does not breed quality.  Enrolment is increasing along with tuition in order to raise revenues, potentially off-setting many improvements in quality of education and services. Under this model, our student body will grow larger, more affluent, and less diverse, and face increased competition for face-time with professors and for research opportunities.
There are so many things wrong with this statement that it is hard to know where to begin.  First, it indicates that the university is both becoming more exclusive and increasing enrollment--how does that work?  Studies have shown again and again that increases in tuition will NOT reduce access (Quebec has the lowest fees yet is among the lowest in percentage of folks going to universities).

Second, having equally low tuition for all means that the people who could pay more are being subsidized and that there is less financial aid for the poorest folks.  I remember a relative of mine was scandalized when he found out that the tuition he was paying for his kid to go to an Ivy league school was so high in part because it was paying for the education of the less wealthy.  I argued then and I argue now that we are better off admitting people regardless of income and then shifting some of the burden of the education to those who can afford it (knowing that this argument is going to bite me in exactly three years).  Otherwise, we admit people who can afford to pay the bill, which would would undermine diversity and lessen the talent pool.  The status quo is actually not that great despite the myths that the tuition-averse assert.

Third, if tuition does not increase, how would universities raise funds?  By increasing enrollment, I would guess.  So, if you do not increase tuition, how are you going to hire more faculty or keep the ones you have?  Through the magical money tree?  Aye, there is the rub: there is no way that we can really expect significant increases in funds from this province (and most of the other provinces/states are in no better shape to do so).  So, again, I ask: where is the money going to come from?  Accepting cash from dictators (the LSE solution) is no longer in fashion.

Two traditions in Canada make this especially difficult.  First, tax deductions for non-profits, such as universities, are very low so there is less incentive for folks and corporations to give to universities.  Of course, when corporations do give $$ to universities, students complain about that as well.  Second, unlike the US, in Canada there is not a tradition/expectation that parents cover the costs of a university education.  Yes, two grand or four grand (in 2017) is a lot of money to a college student, but is not nearly so problematic if parents helped out.  So, my recommendation to the students of today is either blame their parents or ignore the tuition increases since it is mostly the next group that will be paying the freight.

And, finally, I am completely aware that I am being completely self-serving here.  The biggest cost for any university is its faculty.  I could use more colleagues in my field, I could use more resources, I could use more money.  No doubt about it.  So, there you go.  Complete transparency.  Fact-based transparency.  I am still waiting for the students to provide me with some realistic math about the future of the university.  But I am not holding my breath. 

I love the idea that "with the lowest tuition rates in Canada, Quebec has the potential to be a national leader ..."  in what?  Decrepit buildings?  Worsening faculty to student ratios?


Anonymous said...


Steve Saideman said...

I can do the research to find conflicting studies, but am too lazy to do so. The reality is that the province (as other provinces/states) are going to support universities less. The question is: where to find the additional dollars? It is not going to be in the form of increased taxes (which would fund other campaign promises). So, where will the money come from? Expecting more money from Quebec is like expecting the province to quickly and adeptly deal with the road/bridge problems. Oops, too late.

Anonymous said...

The province has money that they could spend on education, they could tax big corporations for example. Many potential sources of money are stated on tuitiontruth.ca. And why not expect more money from Quebec? Funding education is fundamental, making sure that every Quebecker can go to university without worrying about money issues should be a high priority. On the other hand giving big corporations tax breaks shouldn't be.
The question we should really ask ourselves is whether education is an investment, a way to make a person more marketable hence a privilege or whether education is a right.

Steve Saideman said...

Politics is the art of the possible. Students can protest enough to stop tuition maybe. But getting more money via taxes on corporations is not going to happen. The choice is between tuition and funding crisis.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean it is not going to happen because it shouldn't or because there is no political will?
The money is there, it's just not being shared properly.

Steve Saideman said...

The latter. I would love to tax corporations and pay education but i am realistic

Taz said...

I really am glad a McGill professor himself has adressed this issue, and is taking a strong realist stance. It would be 'ideal' to have McGill still provide us with top notch faculty and resources while charging provincial students a meager 2000$ in tuition. Is it realistic? NO.

G. said...

As a McGill undergrad transfer student from the States, I pay (or rather, my folks pay) roughly the same to attend McGill as an international student as I did for one-year of education at a relatively insignificant, no-name state university (certainly not a school with the level of clout/reputation as McGill). And I was an in-state student, receiving "subsidized" rates.

I'd be more than willing to trade tuition with any disenfranchised Quebecker!

I'll be attending class on Thursday (at this point, what's one more picket line to cross?) because frankly, my education > others' (flawed) principles. Not all of us are idealists! Some of us realize that the money will need to come from somewhere and relying on the GoQ for anything these days seems foolhardy. My tuition already 'subsidizes' 5-6 Quebec students as it is...

Anonymous said...

Professor Saideman,from what I've read of your blog, you don't seem to have the strongest grasp on what self-interest means, perhaps because you are in Political Science and not Economics.

As an individual trying to maximize their wellbeing throughout their lifetime, Expected Utility should be a function of individual after-tax earnings, public goods available,and a whole lot of other factors, including genetics, family and friend dynamics, etc., where the function relates to individual preferences.

So as individuals, students are saying that we are willing to sacrifice some portion of our future earnings in order to increase the public goods available to everyone. In this case, we are willing to pay higher taxes on our future income (future income because we will have high incomes as educated individuals) in return for the social benefits of increased access to higher education, to the general macroeconomic benefits of increased access to higher education, and the ideological/moral individual benefits that we accrue from doing the right thing.

So we are not going against our self-interest, because our self-interest is in creating accessible, high-quality public education that works to educate engaged citizens and further future economic growth. That is our self-interest, and it is yours too.

Anonymous said...

As a European, I do think free education and corporate taxes are realistic. I can go to school for free and not live in debt.