Yukon College hikes tuition

UPDATED VERSION Yukon College will raise tuition by 20 per cent this autumn. A full year of studies in most programs will soon cost $3,240, up from $2,700. The college's board of governors approved the fee increase on February 4.

UPDATED VERSION

Yukon College will raise tuition by 20 per cent this autumn.

A full year of studies in most programs will soon cost $3,240, up from $2,700.

The college’s board of governors approved the fee increase on February 4.

That’s not all. The college’s technology fee will also double, to $100 per term for a full-time student, in July. This fee is set by the university administration, rather than the board.

College officials say these increases are painful but needed to cover growing costs. The board expects to balance the college’s budget this fiscal year, which ends in July, but next year is currently set to run up a $500,000 deficit unless costs are curbed.

Higher tuition is expected to cover approximately one-fifth of that shortfall, said Clarence Timmons, chair of the board. More tough decisions may be needed in the months ahead to balance the books.

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

The board, which received the power to set tuition in 2009, has committed to keeping fees within this range.

That will help ensure that the price of attending the college remains cheaper than travelling Outside to study, said Fabiana Naves, the board’s student representative.

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 2008-9, to $108 this autumn.

Prior to 2008, the college’s tuition had been frozen since 2003 and was among the lowest in Canada.

College officials, who usually fall over themselves to receive media attention, have been unusually quiet about the fee increase. The college typically shovels out a news release every business day, but it’s issued nary an announcement about rising tuition to date.

The president, in particular, has done his best to stay out of the spotlight. After the decision was approved at a prefectural board meeting, Terry Weninger shooed a News reporter off to speak with Colleen Wirth, director of student services, whose job is neither to speak with reporters nor to make tough financial decisions.

A later call to the president’s office this week found that Weninger was on vacation until February 28. But Karen Barnes, the vice-president, took a call Wednesday morning.

The tuition increase is necessary, because “our first priority is quality programming,” said Barnes. There’s a North American trend of institutions raising tuition fees, she noted.

As for the eerie silence emanating from the college after tuition increased, “we don’t usually announce tuition fee increases,” said Barnes. The final wording of an internal memo to staff still needs to be approved, she said.

Barnes conceded the college has run down its reserves over the past five years, but she expressed optimism that new, unspecified partnerships will not only balance the books, but bring in enough money in the coming two years to help replenish the piggybank.

This is the final stretch of Weninger’s term as president. His contract expires in August, and the college’s board is about to start the hunt to find a replacement.

The college’s growing costs are at least partly attributable to growing bureaucracy. But one new role, a financial aid officer, ought to help ease the pain of growing fees, by helping to connect students with grants and bursaries, said Wirth.

“We had free money each year that wasn’t being connected with students,” she said.

The college has also splurged on purchases such as interactive whiteboards and a new bouldering wall, all of which benefit students, but have also caused much of the college’s growing costs, said Wirth.

Tuition still makes up a sliver of the college’s total revenue. In 2009-10, the college had revenues of $36.8 million. Tuition and registration fees amounted to $929,600 – just 2.5 per cent of total revenue.

By comparison, some small colleges claw in as much as 20 per cent of their revenues from tuition, said Wirth.

Most of the college’s money comes from the territory. In the coming year, the Yukon government will spend $17.4 million to fund the college’s operations, up from $16.8 million.

In January, the territory agreed to put up $1.3 million to help the college with its latest pension fund woes.

Depending on how you see things, the college’s pension fund either has a $6-million surplus, or a $9-million deficit. The latter figure is how Ottawa sees things, and unfortunately, Yukon College is expected to play by Ottawa’s rules.

The additional $9 million would be needed to fully pay every beneficiary tomorrow, if the college were to go bankrupt – an extremely unlikely scenario.

New federal rules ought to allow the college to meet looser pension requirements, provided the college is backstopped by a government. But it doesn’t look as if these new rules will come into force soon enough to prevent the college from requiring another top-up from government this year.

“We’re quite confident the government will cover us,” Weninger told the board.

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

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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