Full-cost recovery an administrative sham
Re: Masters of business administration
To the Editor:
On March 25, 1997, formal approval was granted to raise annual tuition fees for the masters of business administration program an incredible 550 per cent to $18,000. President Paul Davenport called this an "historic day." In my view, as a Western alumnus, it is a shameful day. The "full-cost recovery" program is an unconscionable, unjustifiable attack on student accessibility and marks the beginning of an obvious trend which will burden university students with unimaginable debt loads.
Tacking on the MBA tuition to pre-existing undergraduate debt will see many students existing with a loan commitment of $75,000 to $100,000. While the university insists that accessibility will be maintained through special loan arrangements and bursaries, I am extremely wary of these assurances. The simple fact is that a student loan is still a debt which must be repaid. Every time the graduate applies for a credit card, line of credit, mortgage or throws himself on the mercy of the bankruptcy court, that debt will still be there.
The university has sought to justify the plan and to placate fears of accessibility and debt load by suggesting the average starting salary for an MBA graduate is $88,000. However, since the business school's salary survey failed to include a breakdown by age, it is likely not be reflective of the true starting salaries for graduates in their 20s. Furthermore, in one part of the survey, 11 out of 16 categories had salary ranges starting at under $50,000. The combined effect of high debt and lower-than-expected salaries may invite economic disaster for some graduates, and I am not at all confident that the special loan agreements will alleviate that risk. Since it is the younger students who will most likely borrow to attend, the cruel effect of full-cost recovery is that it will be the younger students who will be exposed to the greatest economic risks. Thus, the MBA program will only truly be affordable for wealthy, older students. Hence, there is the accessibility problem.
There is a responsibility imparted upon the business school, which it seems to have forgotten, to consider that, as part of Ontario's education system, it must provide truly accessible education for all students. A university is not a business. The business school is no more or less important than any other program or faculty. Success is not measured by Business Week's top 20 list, but by the character manifested in the achievement of substantive, equitable accessibility to education. Asking a young student to sign on the dotted line for a $50,000 loan is not accessibility.
However, this is not just about the MBA program. It is clear from documentation produced by both the university and the provincial government that the handwriting is on the wall for massive tuition hikes for all students. The concept of full-cost recovery is an attractive idea to university administrators and the government. At last Tuesday's meeting Education Minister John Snobelen took pleasure in the fact that soon the taxpayers would pay not one cent for the MBA program. In my view, the government's zeal to rubber stamp the full-cost recovery plan places many specialized programs and possibly all undergraduate programs in danger.
What makes full-cost recovery so unconscionable and so dreadfully unpalatable is that it is shifting the burden of years of national and provincial debt onto the shoulders of young adults who were in no way responsible for its accumulation. I cannot imagine what the students of 30 years ago (and this would include the very persons who have suggested and approved the MBA fee hike) would have said had their parents asked them to incur a 550 per cent increase in tuition. The 20-year-old student of today did not incur the current economic disaster, nor has he/she had the opportunity to experience good economic times as adults. It is manifestly unjust to face the prospect of such horrible debt loads to attain the same education that one's parents or older siblings received at a fraction of the cost.
Indeed, it is a cruel form of abuse that the Me Generation which now sits in the chairs of power would saddle its adult children, today's students, with a burden that students in the '60s and '70s would never have stood for.
As a concerned alumnus, I ask the Western administration to reconsider this shameful approach and to find a more equitable resolution to the economic problems of higher education. I also ask the students of Western to contact the university president, Board of Governors and Senate, and, of as much importance, to have their parents do likewise. Students, parents and alumni should be diligent in ensuring that this bizarre approach to education becomes, to use the word so proudly bantered at the business school's announcement, "history."
Kenneth J. Peacocke