Carol Goar from the Toronto Star, take a bow. Your article “Ontario students paying more but getting less” wins my vote as the most facile, ill-informed article of la rentrée.
The article contains two basic screw-ups which merit the award.
First, the “paying more” bit. Her contention is that the average tuition fee has risen $4182 since when Mike Harris was elected. The figure is correct, but unadjusted for inflation. When you actually compare apples to apples – as any first-year econ student would do – you lop 35% off the increase; in real dollars the tuition increase is actually $2718.
But that’s not all; Goar chooses to completely ignore offsetting subsidies, which have ballooned over the past fifteen years. In 1995-96, the province’s expenditure on grants and loan remission was $350/student; now, it’s $1,544. In 1995-96, the average student (or their parents) received about $1100 in tax credits. Now that figure is just over $2100. In other words, if you take subsidies into account, the net increase in real tuition over 15 years was… $600. Or, if you prefer, $40/year. Clearly, a $600 increase is a lot harder to spin as a Bad Thing than a $4182 increase. So the question is: did Goar use the higher figure because she deliberately wanted to sensationalize a subject, or because she is totally clueless about subsidies and inflation-adjustment?
The other way Goar screws up is in looking at the benefits. For some reason she seems focused on the increasingly crowded classroom. And yes, they’re a problem until you realize that the reason they’re crowded is because there are vastly more students attending university than was the case fifteen years ago. In raw numbers, there are 160,000 more university students in Ontario than there were when Harris was elected. The system has grown by 58%. The participation rate is 33% instead of 21%.
Obviously, it would be better if we could accommodate this massive growth without cutting corners, so you can’t say it’s an unalloyed triumph. But to claim it’s a disaster? Come on.
By the time you reach Goar’s conclusion, which essentially is that asking students to pay an extra $40/year to help fund a massive increase in access is evidence of “the quiet death of society’s commitment to ensure that each generation does better than the last,” you’re left either one of two conclusions. Does she genuinely believe that life was better when there were fewer people being educated? Or does she really not understand how little tuition has increased and how much access has improved? Either way, it’s a disastrous article, well deserving of this year’s award.