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Your bill, sir

This spring, Dalhousie University raised its tuition by three per cent for the seventh year in a row. On top of this, there were further hikes to international student fees, adding to an already steep differential fee.  

The ones who are being hit the hardest by these changes are new students, particularly incoming international students, who are paying 8.1 per cent more than if they applied last year. This increase will be applied every year for the next four years for these students. To put things into perspective, Dal’s own tuition calculator for a prospective international student starting at a bachelor’s degree in commerce finds the student liable to pay over $21,000 in annual tuition alone this year. The student also ends up paying for books, mandatory overseas health insurance, housing fees, and other “hidden” fees.  

20 per cent of bachelor’s degree holders graduate with over $25,000 in debt

Tertiary education was never inexpensive to begin with, but making a college degree even more inaccessible to students definitely alienates high school graduates. As reported by Global News last September, more than 20 per cent of bachelor’s degree holders graduate with over $25,000 in debt.  

I’m reminded of a joke I read on social media recently: A person called in to report a robbery. He said he had been robbed of $30,000 annually for four years with the false premise of higher earnings in the future and a supposedly prestigious roll of paper. The “suspect” was reported to have said, “Your payment has been processed by the bursar,” before exiting the scene. Sound familiar?  

Here’s the coup de grace for any pro price-hike arguments: in a 2017 article for the Hechinger Report, Jon Marcus reported that there were 2.4 million fewer college students in the United States that year than there were in 2011. This should raise a few red flags. How long before we see the same volume of dwindling numbers localized in Atlantic Canada? Granted, Dalhousie might be a few cents shy of creeping up on Ivy league levels of eye-watering tuition receipts that make loan agencies giggle. At the same time, Canada also has a lot less in population to spare.  

Without a stop to tuition hikes in sight, a vicious cycle is approaching. Universities raise prices to pay for better facilities, fewer students enroll, leaving even less money for universities, forcing them to raise costs even higher. The international students, unsurprisingly, face the shortest end of the stick: while government regulates no more than three per cent in annual tuition increases, no such cap exists for international students, making ludicrous eight per cent annual increases seem acceptable to the administration.  

Dalhousie sits at #7 on the list for most expensive Canadian universities

A rise in education costs is unlikely to have positive effects for the students or the university. The year-on-year price hikes appear to be a short-term solution to the long-term problem of securing more funding for faculties. Dalhousie is already considered very expensive by Canadian standards. According to Maclean’s 2018 university rankings,  Dal sits at number seven on a list of the 18 most expensive Canadian universities. It is high time the authorities shift their agnostic stance on the correlation between spiraling costs and declining student numbers.  

Scholarships and grants are most often severely limited in funds and quite restrictive. For most people, they barely scratch the surface of the debt they accrue over four years. The ones who qualify for higher value scholarships at Dal are few in number and their situations do not paint an accurate picture of the struggling majority. As for financial aid, in many cases people fall under a tricky classification: well off enough to not be considered for aid yet struggling to fully fund a four-year degree.  

I believe universities should dispel the idea that higher price tags come with some perception of higher prestige. Dalhousie might lose out on a lot of brilliant minds and young scholars who may not fall under the correct tax bracket. Closing the gates to more and more students every year will only strengthen the student bodies of competing universities. It’s difficult enough to transition into a different city or country at university without the spectre of poverty haunting you. 

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