Tuition rises but cuts still made?

The college budget for 2014/15 will be voted on May 15

By Angela Espinoza, News Editor

The Douglas College Board will be having their 2014/15 budget vote on May 15. The vote directly follows the March 26 budget consultation, where students were able to openly voice their opinions on how they felt the college’s budget was being used. Students have been heard, but some of the results have the potential to be mixed at best.

“This budget encompasses everything that supports all the courses, the faculty, and the services,” says the Douglas College Students’ Union (DSU) college relations and membership outreach coordinator, Tracy Ho.

On average, student fees for domestic students are raised by a limited two per cent each year. International student fees, which do not have a limit, face possibly being raised more each year. Ho states that in the coming year, international student fees will be raised by roughly two per cent as well, but in the past have been raised by as much as seven per cent.

“One of the main things that they [the students] have spoken about—both at the consultation and with their conversations with the students’ union—is that when they make the decision to come to Douglas College, they’re not told and they don’t know that there’s a possibility for their tuition fees to increase,” says Ho. “And it’s actually not something that you find readily on the website, it doesn’t clearly state that in any of the materials that get sent to students, and so a lot of the international students struggle with the fees going up year after year.”

In previous years, more money was provided to post-secondary institutions on behalf of the BC government. However, as that amount has greatly decreased over time, raising tuition fees consistently has become necessary, which ultimately impacts all students. However, as both Ho and the DSU’s outgoing internal relations coordinator Jesse Stamberg state, the rising costs of tuition have not been necessarily going back to the students.

“The technology in the classroom is just not up to date, the Wi-Fi is always at full capacity, huge waits at the quick-print stations that actually take quite a bit of time,” were just some of the issues Ho pointed out. In addition, Ho says, “The food service [at the David Lam campus]… doesn’t necessarily meet all… dietary or religious needs, and it’s also quite expensive.”

“We hear students say they’re not seeing or feeling tangible increases to the number of services and the quality of services,” says Ho.

Stamberg meanwhile points out Douglas College’s accumulated $50-60-million surplus which goes untouched each year in a capital budget. The surplus is likely to be used for a potential deficit, as most other BC post-secondary institutions are currently facing, but Stamberg suggests Douglas College’s deficit may not come about for a number of years.

“The money held by post-secondary institutions [in capital budgets] in BC is treated as government surplus, and the institutions are not allowed to spend it down without government approval as it has an impact on the optics of the provincial budget,” says Stamberg.

“With yearly surpluses the college annually lauds their contribution of $1-million to bursaries,” says Stamberg. “The $1-million is not distributed to students in need, but rather it goes into an endowment of which only the interest goes to students. The interest is relatively small, within the $2,000 to $3,000 range. It seems to be a misrepresentation to say that $1-million goes into bursaries annually when a small fraction of that money actually makes it into students’ hands annually.”

However, the bigger blow to students this year will be the cuts, despite the college’s surplus. Stamberg states that both EASL 100- and 200-level courses will be phased out, in addition to Douglas cutting its badminton, baseball, and softball teams—all of which our $32.75 per semester athletics fees initially covered.

“Citizenship and Immigration Canada has changed the funding model for domestic… EASL programs,” says Stamberg, “therefore there is no guaranteed funding for Douglas College EASL programs for domestic students after 2014/15. They [the college] currently have enough transitional funding from the provincial government to have a bridge year to get students hopefully through. There is the impending elimination of domestic EASL programs at Douglas College if funding is not restored.

“Statistics show that an increasing number of students who enter the college in EASL 100-200 programs progress through the levels and eventually enter for credit college programs [and/or] classes. By cutting the funding to basic EASL, students will choose to go to other [post-secondary institutions] that still offer [those courses] and progress into programs and credit courses [elsewhere].”

As for the sports team cuts: “The DSU is seriously concerned about the cutting of athletic programs, which students voted to fund through the DSU Athletic Fee,” says Stamberg. “We suspect that the [money] saved by cutting sports activates for students will be absorbed into wages for the proposed campus life manager and the athletics manager positions. We question why a director of campus life [who] was hired less than six months ago… is now being promoted to director of student affairs and services with two managers under him. We want to see more activities for students and less middle-management.”

Douglas College has saved roughly $5.6-million annually for the past 11 years, bringing the 2013 capital budget total to $61-million.