SAIT students bracing for a hit to their wallets as tuition increases loom

Representative resolve: Garrett Koehlerk, at SAIT on Oct. 28. Koehler said the potential tuition hike for students won’t change SAITSA’s priorities, it will only generate more. (Photo by Luca Staffa/The Press)

The number seven may not be a very lucky one for SAIT students this winter.

With the Kenney government opening the door for Alberta post-secondary institutions to increase tuition by up to seven per cent, as part of its campaign to balance its budget, students are bracing themselves for a hit to their wallets.

SAIT upgrading student Wendy Croucher fears a seven-per-cent hike to her tuition will mean more hours of part-time work, and less time for her studies.

“It was hard enough to enter school before this new budget,” Croucher said in an interview, after the budget was brought down Oct. 24.

“Now I won’t have time to put into my school work if I don’t get support, because I’ll be too busy working to compensate for the lack of support,” she said.

“That is why a lot of students have stopped coming (to post-secondary), because of funding cuts.”

In the budget, the government said it was ending the three-year freeze on tuition imposed by the Notley government, and would allow institutions to increase the levy by up to seven per cent per year, for the next three years.

The new policy could see tuition hikes of up to 10 per cent for individual programs. The budget also cut grants to institutions, with SAIT taking a 5.5-per-cent reduction, or about $8.4 million, this year.

As of Nov. 8, SAIT had not yet decided whether, and if so, by how much, to increase tuition. There also has been no announcement of any other cost-saving measures related to the budget.

Second-year SAIT metal-sheeting student David McGillis described a potential tuition increase as unfair.

“If [SAIT] decides to charge us more, then people aren’t going to decide to come to this school,” he said.

“It’s a ‘lose-lose’ situation for students who will have to pay more for their tuition and also pay for their life expenses.”

“If we have to pay more [for tuition] we won’t get as good of a learning experience,” said Micah Jespersen, a third-year plumber and gas-fitter at SAIT.

“I could see the budget cuts affecting students coming into the trades, because newer students won’t get updated materials,” he said.

“Sometimes companies pay for that kind of thing, but it all depends.”

Students’ job prospects after graduation could also be affected by a hike, said Quinn Rodrigues, a first-year hospitality and management student.

“Education should be a top priority, helping people get to their goals, so when you go to school you want as little debt as possible,” Rodrigues said.

“Usually, you come out of school with a lot of debt, and then you can’t find a job right away, so you have to stick with a low paying job until you pay it off.”

The budget has created a new challenge for the SAIT Students’ Association, according to Garrett Koehler, vice-president external for SAITSA.

“Currently, none of our priorities have changed, we’ve only gained new ones,” he said.

“Our priorities around mental health, transparency of institutional funding and sexual violence policies with still be moving forward, even with this new budget,” said Koehler.

It was hard enough to enter school before this new budget – Wendy Croucher

Besides tuition, the budget has raised issues about student aid, institutional funding for infrastructure and tax credits being phased out in 2020, Koehler said.

“This is what we expected, this is what the government said they were going to do. Students who didn’t vote (in the April 11 provincial election) have no right to complain.

“What I encourage students to do is bring their real-life experience to SAITSA,” the VP said.

“When I lobby with members of government, having those real student stories on how [budget cuts] have affected their lives empowers not only me but other student advocates to show MLA’s how [budget cuts] have affected students,” said Koehler said.

“Those real-life stories hit a little harder to politicians than just a policy.”

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides defended a tuition increase in an article published Nov. 7 in the Calgary Herald.

“Even if institutions choose to hit the tuition cap, each year for the next three years, tuition will increase by approximately $400 per year, keeping it in-line with the Canadian average and affordable,” the minister said.

“Alberta taxpayers heavily subsidize the cost of going to university. As it stands, students contribute just 20 per cent to the cost of their education, while taxpayers contribute 50 per cent. Under our tuition changes, this mix will change to 25 cent and 45 cent, respectively,” Nicolaides said.

The government’s announcement about grant cuts showed that SAIT will be among the hardest-hit post-secondaries in the province.

While SAIT’s operating grant will drop by 5.5 per cent, NAIT gets only a 2.6-per-cent cut, while Mount Royal University will face a 1.3-per-cent reduction.

The U of C’s grant is coming down 6.9 per cent, the same as the University of Alberta, according to information released by Campus Alberta, the funding arm of the Ministry of Advanced Education.

The cuts appear to be based on the size of the surpluses carried on the financial accounts of the institutions.

SAIT, for example, had an average surplus over the past five years of $17.8 million, which the government is taking just under half of, for its deficit fight.

NAIT, by contrast, had a surplus of just over $9 million, while MRU’s surplus was $4.8 million.