Thursday, May 31, 2012

University Tuition

Years ago, I used to give a lecture every year to the medical school on pain.  I felt evangelical about teaching medical students about pain then which made me overlook some of the downsides of which there were many.  The major downside was that I wasn't paid for my time,  and because I just can't interrupt the OR list for an hour to run over to the next building to give my lecture, I had to take the whole day off.  Further complicating matter was the medical school's habit of occasionally rescheduling the lecture on short notice.  I also had to attend curriculum meetings that lasted for hours and in a minute of stupidity agreed to sit in on a half day medical student case presentations.  Eventually I learned to work around the call schedule to minimize my income loss and having got a good Power Point presentation, I only had to make minor adjustments every year.  I think I actually enjoyed it a bit; I used to be one of those people who sat in the back row of the lecture theatre not paying much attention and now I was a real Medical School Professor.  I did this for 10 years.  For the last 2 or 3, I started hinting that many they should find someone else but they kept on asking me.

The last year I gave my lecture, just before I started, the class president asked if he could talk to the class for a minute.  The University had just raised tuition again and he and a group of students were planning to meet with the Dean to see if they could do anything about this.

I then started my lecture.

I prefaced by stating words to the effect that, I supported the students 100%, that tuition they were paying was ridiculous;  further that I was not getting 1 cent from the University to give the lecture, and that most of the doctors who did medical school teaching received no remuneration.  So I concluded, where was the money going?  Then I gave my lecture.

Nobody ever said anything, but my career as a Medical School Lecturer was over; I was never asked back.
Strangely enough about 3 years ago the University actually started paying me for teaching.  I don't teach much but I sleep soundly at night accepting the money.

Students in Quebec have recently gone "on strike" over what the mainstream press describes as modest tuition increases.  This has resulted in some violence which is of course widely publicized.  It has also resulted in some fairly draconian legislation by the provincial legislature which has brought out more people onto the street. Tuition even after the fee increases will still be the lowest in Canada.   One way to look at this is that tuition in the rest of Canada is too high not that tuition in Quebec is too low.  Regardless tuition still only covers a portion  of the cost of educating a student so you could look at it as tuition being a tax imposed on students (and their parents).  In effect it could be argued that increasing tuition prevents low income students from accessing a program which is still heavily subsidized.  Also Quebec is in the middle of another corruption scandal and folks are looking at how much government money ended up in various people's pockets and asking just why are the students being asked to pony up more money.

The increases are it is true just a couple of hundred dollars a year.  Put this in perspective.  Periodically (actually quite a bit over the past 20 years), the government will announce a tax cut.  Somebody will point out that the average person will only reduce his tax bill by a few hundred dollars as opposed to somebody in my income range who might save thousands of dollars.  Instantly that person will be attacked as an elitist who doesn't understand the value of a couple of hundred dollars to the working man.  I don't even mind having a couple of hundred dollars thrown my way.  So a couple of hundred dollars is a big deal.

Here is how old I am.  In my first two years of University, my yearly tuition was $428.  That is $1854 in 2012 dollars. In my third year, a 25% increase was imposed, raising the rate to $535.  And there were protests although nothing like is happening in Quebec.  It was after all the 70s, it was still possible to get a good summer job, and student loans and grants were generous. Medical school tuition was much higher but it only cracked four figures in my last year.  Consequently I graduated owing only $10,000 most it incurred in my last year and I got bored with dealing with the bank and paid it off during my first year in practice.

Tuition for Sciences at my old Alma Mater is now $4700, 2.5 times inflation.  Medicine is $16,000, over 6 X the inflation adjusted $1000  I paid in 1981. Are students getting an education that is 2.5 X better than in the 1970s let alone 6 X better?  I doubt it.

I now have one son graduated from University and one son still in school.  I was able to take advantage of the income attribution rules that those of us in the 1% have and set up mutual funds for them soon after their birth, which had a far whack of cash in (not as much as my investment adviser predicted) when they were 18.  When the government allowed RESPs with the $400 yearly grant, we put money in those.  On top of that our children won the odd scholarship and between that they have been able to attend University and graduate debt-free, not really have to work during summers or deal with the whole student loan BS.

Student loans are of course a whole form of welfare for the banks.  What a sweet deal that is.  The government pays the interest while the student is in school and if the student defaults, the government picks up the tab.  Where can I get a deal like that?

When I was "a student leader" during my time in University, I was invited to a dinner where the University president Dr. Douglas Kenny gave a talk.  Dr. Kenny had an interesting proposition that I have heard repeated a few times since then.  He proposed making University "free" or rather the students would automatically get their tuition and reasonable living expense covered.  When they graduated, or ceased going to school, they would start paying this back as a surtax on their income.  For example if we said the surtax was 5% to pick a number, and they owed $1000 in income tax, they would pay another $50 as a surtax.  This means that the investment banker or ophthalmologist would pay back their "loan" quite quickly whereas the philosophy major working at Starbucks would pay it back quite slowly.  Because it would be administered through the tax system, most of the student loan bureaucracy would be eliminated.  Variations on this have been proposed including free education in return for national service, something we already offer our military.

These proposals however make so much sense that there is very little chance that they will ever be accepted. 

1 comment:

ZMD said...

$16,000 a year for medical school in Canada? Consider yourselves lucky. I paid that much in the U.S. in the late 1980's. Most med schools here now run at least $40,000. But as you know, we American doctors are 2.5x better than Canadian doctors ;-)