2012-05-29

Is Low Tuition the Progressive Way?

CEGEP
In Quebec, CEGEP technical schools, aka junior college, aka college, are free. Yup, free! You can get your diploma, for free. They are staying free. And with high youth unemployment, the opportunity cost of studying for 3 years (after graduating high-school in secondary 5, grade 11) is low. Getting a diploma can still be expensive, if, for example, you don't live near one, need a car to get to it or your local CEGEP doesn't offer the program of study you want. But all in all, they are pretty progressive. Its hard to believe Alberta would have a labour shortage if they had CEGEPs.

University
University is not free. Although the equivalent of the first year is (Quebec students going to university graduate highschool in grade 11, do 2 years of pre-university (at a CEGEP, for free) and then 3 or 4 years of university). Even better, many fields of study that require a masters degree or equivalent in Ontario (law, physiotherapy, social work), only require 3 years of post CEGEP university in Quebec, two years less study than in Ontario. 

Protests
So what are Quebec students complaining about? Well, lets face it, you give an inch, they take a mile. Also, tuition may seem insignificant to those students studying away from home, as food, lodging and transportation are so expensive. For urban Quebeckers, living at home and getting to university by bus/metro, it is the cost. And if you are studying geography, political science, women's studies, or, ironically, economics,  the financial return is far from guaranteed. Higher tuition changes the equation.

The Cost of Ignorance
As part of my job, I talk to stupid ignorant people all day. People who have poor reading skills. People who fail at simple problem solving and elementary physics. People who can't spell Canada or give me the name of their province. Time zones. The earth is round, the sun goes up in the east. How hard can that be? Someone in Toronto asked me if it was 2am or 2pm in Moncton. Education benefits society. There is a cost to society associated with poor education. Ask any restaurant owner in Alabama, forced to print menus with pictures. Full moon theories, satanic cults, diesel "fuel efficient" ash spewing cars for downtown parking enforcers (Ottawa and Moncton). Stupidity and ignorance have a significant impact on society. In that sense, education is good, very good.

Cuba
However, you can end up with too many doctors. Without the financial incentive, you wouldn't think so many Cubans would have become doctors. But they have. So much so that Cuba loans them to Venezuela and Spain, like Mexico loans Canadians their farm labour.

From Ocean to Ocean, Student Loans Suck
Canada only has 30 million people. The cost of migrating to where you skills are needed is quite real. Facebook isn't just popular in Canada because of online friends, it is popular because English speaking Canadians are trying to keep-up with friends and family that live, far, far away. Most Quebeckers don't have the rest of Canada as an option. Their English language skills are too poor. Chances of picking a field of study not in demand when graduating is quite real, at any level, high school, CEGEP or university. But if you are in debt, the initial repayment schedule can be prohibitive. Getting and keeping loans is subject to your parents ability to pay, as decided by the government, the ability to get to school by public transportation (regardless of time it takes), marriage, divorce, siblings dropping out, etc... After graduating university, studying for a certificate, I lost out on a bursary because I had temporarily moved in with my parents for a summer job. Dealing with the government student loan bureaucracy (public and private) is reason enough to be angry enough to throw rocks at the police. Access is a real issue.

Freedom
I'm am for free education. Including university. I have paid a very high price for choosing the wrong field of study. I've had to relocate many times to many different parts of Canada. I declared bankruptcy 10 years after graduating, allowing me to clear the remainder of my student loan. By the way, bankruptcy is just a step above suicide. Not fun. I don't recommend it. But it is obviously better than that other option. Today I earn a living in a job that I loathe, that has nothing to do with my education. In fact, some of my colleagues are high school drop outs. 

I Learned
I learned a lot at university. Both my parents have degrees. Not going to university never really crossed my mind. Had it been more expensive, I might have reconsidered studying in Montreal, staying home. I certainly would have hesitated doing that certificate after getting my BSc.

I Wish I Had
If I had a trade instead of a degree, I might be able to find lucrative work in Alberta or Labrador. How many people like me can Quebec, Ontario or New Brunswick, afford?

Opportunity Cost
And is university tuition the right place to spend public funds? Paying taxes is never fun. But I would submit that paying taxes when you hate your job is worse. Free education or lower my taxes? Hmm. Spend the money on healthcare, adult illiteracy, public transportation, welfare, childcare?

Political Options
Not an easy decision. The Party Québécois, the only real alternatives to the Quebec Liberals, is promising to keep tuition in line with inflation, but, is also going to form a committee to consider ways to finance universities...

Democracy V Anarchy
As a progressive, a social democrat, the public policy choice is not easy and is often tainted by personal experience and family socio-economic background. For communists and anarchists, it is much clearer.

Related post:
-I Do Not Support the Occupy Movement.
-Montreal Students Riot, Live Stream

Video of the undressed protest in Montreal (turn the sound down if at work)





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