This article was written by Lena Archer
As we enter the fall semester, many of us are anxious to see our tuition cost. As of the 2020-21 academic year, the previous tuition freeze was lifted. Since the overall provincial government funding was reduced by $5.7 million, the University of Lethbridge decided to increase tuition to 7% per student each year. The tuition cannot increase by more than 7% for the next three years; therefore, the University of Lethbridge students are currently paying the absolute maximum increase permitted by the provincial government.
So, what does this mean, exactly? The University of Lethbridge website includes an “average” tuition cost for the upcoming academic year as $5690. Since 7% of that cost is $373, this is how much our tuition roughly increased in the upcoming year. While this may not seem like a large amount now, each year, this number will rise. The provincial government is making it hard on the budget by cutting university grants: “Over the past three budgets, the total provincial operating grant funding has decreased by $16.2 million” (p. 15) which caused the university to take on the operational cost for the new science and academic building. This cost was drastically reduced compared to previous years from government grants.
To combat the increase in tuition at the University of Lethbridge, it is also noted in the consolidated budget for the upcoming year that “1 percent of the domestic undergraduate tuition increase [will be allotted] to a student bursary for 2021/22. This bursary will be structured to include work integrated learning opportunities” (p. 29). While this bursary may help some students, the remainder of the students will still suffer.
Alberta’s Annual Loan limit remains unchanged. For a Bachelor’s degree, the maximum loan for two semesters is $15,000, according to Alberta Student Aid. In addition, the minimum wage has remained unchanged. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Alberta in the past year has increased by 3.7%. This means that students are expected to pay more for tuition with the added stress of increased living expenses without increasing incomes.
Added financial strain will affect the student population in terms of mental health and possible grade decline. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada reported that if you are under financial stress, you are “four times as likely to suffer from sleep problems, headaches, and other illnesses.” In addition, the Financial Consumer Agency reported that financial stress could also lead to depression and anxiety. Financial stress is known to affect many different aspects of an individual’s life. Poor academic performance is associated with financial stress; therefore, the overall student GPA at the University of Lethbridge in the upcoming years is at risk (Heckman, S., Lim, H. N., & Montalto, 2014).
As students, what can we do about it? In 2012, Quebec students went on strike to stand against tuition fee increases from the provincial government (Lambert, M.E, 2014). The tuition was subject to an increase of $325 per year. The strike is currently the longest student strike in Canadian history, lasting from February 13th to September 7th. Bill 78 passed on May 18th, 2012, which restricted students’ rights to protest, placing heavy fines in effect. However, many Quebecois people disagreed with this bill since it infringed on the Quebecois Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Protests and demonstrations continued to display unhappiness. Lambert (2012) explains that on August 1st, 2012:
Jean Charest’s government called a general election and asked the “silent majority” to express its opinion on the question of tuition fees by electing his party to a fourth term. The student strike thus became a political issue. Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti québécois, promised to repeal Bill 78 and hold a summit on higher education if her party was elected on 4 September. Less than two weeks after the election, the new minority government led by the Parti québécois repealed Bill 78 and cancelled the tuition fee increase. (Lambert, M.E, 2014)
This story proves that students can make a change to the education system. When tuition increases, students’ lives become more difficult; consequently, student mental health and overall GPA will suffer. If we want something to change, that means we have to be the change. It is everyone’s responsibility to advocate for what they believe and what they want and then act to achieve that. What does that mean for us?