STU proposes tuition increase

The 2013-2014 budget development report shows STU will barely break even (Cara Smith/AQ)
The 2013-2014 budget development report shows STU will barely break even (Cara Smith/AQ)

For students who struggle to make ends meet, next year’s proposed tuition increase could be a tough reality. St. Thomas University expects to barely break even this year with a surplus of $1,100, a problem that will likely lead the university to increase tuition for the third year in a row.

“We’re forecasting just a very slight surplus but it is very tight so we know that operations are very tight. Part of that is because we had budgeted our enrolment of 2,475 students and in the end we were short about 100 students,” vice president of finance and administration, Lily Fraser said.

One hundred students equal roughly a loss of $350,000, depending on the students’ programs and if they’re domestic or international.

STU increased tuition by $175 two years ago and $200 last year. The New Brunswick government has had a tuition cap of $201.75 for the last two years, but STU is considering asking the government to allow them to increase tuition by more than this.

The 2013-2014 budget development report was presented to the university’s Senate on Jan. 16. It outlines STU’s expenditures and revenues, along with the intention to hold focus groups with students about how the university should balance their budget without burdening students. These focus groups will happen between Jan. 29 and Jan. 31.

“Our goal is to deliver a balanced budget. That’s what we’ve always done and we’ll continue to do,” Fraser said.

Fraser said the estimated gap between revenues and expenditures for next year is $1.4 million.

St. Thomas University Students’ Union President John Hoben says the average student in New Brunswick pays for 37 per cent of their own education and the rest is paid for by the government and other programs. STU students pay 45 per cent of their education. While STU may be concerned with breaking even, Hoben sees the benefit in aiming for larger profits.

“The idea behind running big surpluses is planning for the future, so they can be banking a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, so when they want to build a $5 million building they have half of it paid for,” Hoben said.

STU has the lowest tuition in the province, at $4,945, compared to the average tuition in the province which is $5,797. This gap of $852 would be addressed over multiple years, according to the budget development report.

“If you were to bridge the gap between our current tuition to the provincial average over a three year period, what would that look like? But our question really is what should be our tuition policy, what should be our student financial aid policy? It’s not been determined,” Fraser said.

If this example was used, STU would have to increase tuition by $284 for three years.

“There is no way we would go from what we are now to the provincial average in a year. That’s not the intent,” Fraser said.

STUSU is launching a campaign against the proposed tuition hike. It’s called “Reason to Stay” and they are creating a website for approximately $2,600.

“What it is essentially, it will give students the opportunity to fill out a boarding pass, a one way ticket out of the province. On this website we want to have students’ names, their age, their expected debt load, their destination,” vice president education Alex Driscoll said.

“Where do you want to go when you graduate? Because we all know not many people want to stay. And that’s the message we have to get to the government.”

Driscoll says tuition is going to go up next year regardless of what the union does, but they aim to influence the government to increase it as little as possible.

New Brunswick universities received a one time increase in their operating grants of $116,900 last year from the provincial government. STU doesn’t expect to see this increase again. The operating grant was $13.5 million, including the increase. The grant is partly based on enrolment, something STU struggled with this year.

“If you look at our provincial operating grant it’s 84 per cent of the province’s operating grant in the end. Some of the other universities are a lot higher than that,” Fraser said.

Communications director, Jeffrey Carleton, says he’s not convinced the increase in tuition last year is related to the decline in enrolment. He also doesn’t believe that increasing tuition will deter students, something STUSU executives disagree with him on.

“I have no difficulty calling this year a setback for us in recruiting because our first-year enrolment was not where we wanted it to be,” Carleton said.

STU was less successful in recruiting New Brunswick students, especially males, than in previous years. Carleton is unsure if this was because of less recruiting efforts or if the students just weren’t there.

Fraser uses Mount Allison University as an example where tuition and enrolment don’t appear to be related. Their tuition is $7,095 with approximately 2,275 full-time students.

STU’s retention rate for 2011 was 71 per cent. Fraser says it would be almost impossible to have 100 per cent retention because many students switch schools during their undergraduate degree.

Next year’s tuition won’t be officially decided until April. Fraser says they are being as open as possible about the budget process in the hopes that students will better understand STU’s financial situation.

“Our goal is to inform the community of our current situation and to obtain input in terms of developing our budget for next year,” Fraser said.

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