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College costs, by the numbers

Yukon College's decision to hike tuition fees by 20 per cent this autumn set off grumbling among some staff that the institution spends too much on administration and not enough on instructors.

Yukon College’s decision to hike tuition fees by 20 per cent this autumn set off grumbling among some staff that the institution spends too much on administration and not enough on instructors.

Is this true? To find out, the News asked the college to prepare a raft of numbers.

We found that, by two measures, administration’s share of the pie has remained stable over the past five years.

But that doesn’t mean instructors don’t have reason to grumble: their slice of total revenue has slightly shrunk.

The college has created six new management jobs over the past five years. The count reaches seven if you include the dean of mine training and technology position, which has not yet been filled.

Two of these positions oversee new programs, and are paid for with new money attracted by the college: the vice-presidents of research and the director of the Cold Climate Innovation Centre.

One is vice-president of education and training, a position that existed in the 1990s.

Another is director of college relations, a position expanded from a half-time to a full-time role in 2007-08.

The boss of the Northern Research Institute was bumped up from a director to a management position.

Lastly, the director of technical and support services was reclassified in December from a lesser-paying manager position.

Yet administration costs remained stable as a proportion of total spending. It cost $5.772 million in 2009-10, or 15.6 per cent of total spending. In 2005-06, it cost $4.157 million, or 15.7 per cent of spending.

By comparison, direct and indirect instruction cost $19.856 million in 2009-10, or 53.6 per cent of spending. In 2005-06, instructing cost $15.027 million, or 56.7 per cent of spending.

Over the past five years, total spending at the college grew by 39.8 per cent. Administration costs grew by 38.8 per cent. Instruction costs grew by 32.1 per cent.

The balance between the number of faculty and administration jobs has also remained stable over five years, as 46.5 per cent of the permanent workforce.

In 2005, the college had 97 faculty and 111 management, confidential and support staff. In 2010, it had 121 faculty and 139 management, confidential and support staff.

If payroll isn’t to blame, what is? The answer is a hodge-podge of other expenses.

Assorted technology costs alone amounted to more than $375,000 last year. Wireless infrastructure and smartboards are new additions, while computer replacements and software licensing fees carry hefty annual costs.

Bursaries and scholarships have also swollen in size. Currently, the college has trouble giving away all the money it has allotted for needy students, so it created a new position dedicated to this end.

Tuition has remained a tiny sliver of college revenues over the past five years, at around 2.5 per cent. The territorial grant, meanwhile, has declined.

Critics also accuse the college’s top brass of plundering their institution’s reserves. And there’s something to that: reserves without earmarks have shrunk from $2.939 million in the summer of 2006 to $1.481 million in the summer of 2010.

More than $450,000 of that went towards paying out retirement costs the college hadn’t budgeted.

“We can’t budget for it, because we don’t know who’s going to announce they’re retiring,” said Jacqueline Bedard, the college’s director of relations. “And it depends how long they’ve been here for what those costs are. Someone who’s been here for 20 years is a bigger hit than someone who’s been here for five.”

Another $93,000 went towards paying Bedard’s salary for half a year when her job was created in 2008.

Upgrades to computer servers cost $229,000. A marketing and communications strategy cost $100,000. Culinary school renovations cost $49,000. A First Nation education summit cost $80,000.

And the college piggybank may be further drained yet. In September, the Yukon government asked the college to contribute $300,000 in reserves to cover cost overruns for the new campus at Pelly Crossing.

Faced with a declining territorial grant, the college has shifted towards attracting targeted investment from government and the private sector.

It’s done that by expanding its continuing education courses offered to government and private-sector workers and by growing the research projects performed by the Yukon Research Centre of Excellence, an umbrella group that includes the Northern Research Institute and Cold Climate Innovation Centre.

The college has also expanded its offerings over the past five years to include courses on visual arts, wastewater management, First Nation governance and Masters of Education, among others - a total of 15 new programs.

The college has approximately 500 full-time students and 1,500 part-time students.

A full year of studies in most programs will soon cost $3,240, up from $2,700. Technology fees will also double, to $100 per term for a full-time student, in July.

This will be the third consecutive year that tuition has increased at the college. The price of a single credit has more than doubled, from $50 in 2008-09, to $108 this autumn.

Even with higher fees, officials insist that Yukon College’s rates are still a good deal, with prices within the lowest third of similar-sized colleges in Western and Northern Canada.

Officials have also suggested that higher fees may attract more students, based on the reasoning that you get what you pay for. The Canadian Federation of Students disagrees.

“They should speak to the government of Quebec, where college is completely free, and see what people think,” said chair Dave Molenhuis. “They have one of the highest completion rates for post-secondary education in the country.”

Molenhuis calls Yukon College’s tuition increase “pretty shocking” and worries that such a big rate hike will scare off low-income students, even with more bursaries and grants on offer.

“It doesn’t make sense to disrupt people’s pocketbooks to that extreme.”

Contact John Thompson at