Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Textbook stunt no substitute for proper funding

In the latest bizarre policy measure by Premier Christy Clark, the BC government will provide free online textbooks for 40 post secondary courses.

It reminds me of the time they sent a book home to every household in BC with a child. I imagine this will be just about as effective at addressing debt for post secondary students as that stunt was for improving literacy rates and school readiness.

That the government would propose such a measly and inequitable policy shows a real lack of understanding about this issue. Post secondary education is no longer affordable for many students, particularly those from low income families.

This issue was described in a recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

"...skyrocketing tuition fees do play a significant role in deciding whether or not to pursue a degree, particularly among students from low-income families. The extra costs (more than $5,000) associated with attending a university away from home tend to reduce enrolment among lower-income students who would have had to relocate to attend.

According to research from Statistics Canada, “slightly more than one half (50.2%) of youth from families in the top quartile of the income distribution attend university by age 19, compared to less than a third of youth from families in the bottom quartile (31.0%).” (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2012/09/Eduflation%20and%20High%20Cost%20Learning.pdf)

Sadly, BC is not alone in failing to address the equity issues that come with higher tuition fees - it is a pan-Canadian phenomenon. Tuition rates have risen far faster than inflation, putting many students in dire economic straights with heavy debt loads.

Similar forces are creeping into K - 12 schooling as well. One little noticed change to BC's school system this spring was a change to the School Act that allows Districts to charge fees for International Baccalaureate programs. Despite "hardship" policies, fees are a deterrent for low income families. This may impact hundreds of IB programs offered at schools across the province. It is in addition to fees already charged for specialty and Academy programs, as well as the significant fundraising parents do.

All public education programs, not just a few textbooks, should be tuition free and fully funded. This is the only way to provide equitable access to these programs.

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