Tuition reductions at post-secondary schools will have about a $500,000 impact on Northern College’s budget, according to its president and CEO Fred Gibbons.
Today, the Ontario government officially announced it’s cutting tuition at publicly-assisted colleges and universities by 10 per cent and refocussing the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
While the tuition cuts were anticipated, one thing about today’s announcement surprised Gibbons.
“I thought and I still think the cuts will be a little deeper. If I can use the analogy of two shoes, one shoe fell today and we’re going to wait for the second shoe to fall because I do believe there will be further reductions coming,” he said.
At Northern College, Gibbons said they are working on the budget for the new fiscal year starting April 1.
“As a result of today’s announcement, we’ve now reduced our anticipated tuition for next year by $500,000. We don’t expect any fewer students, it’s just we’ll be seeing less revenue,” he said.
While he said they won’t be making cuts in any of the classrooms, the school will have to make up the loss.
“There may be some programs that are suspended, but if they’re suspended they were likely on a track for suspension prior to today’s announcement anyway,” he said.
Another area he identified for cost-savings is postponing upgrades to things such as boilers and windows at the school’s four campuses.
“That’s a very large job that we’ve been working at over the last number of years, we’ve made some good progress, perhaps we can back off on that a little bit to save on the expense side,” said Gibbons.
He explained the provincial government controls two of the three revenue streams for colleges, the tuition rate increases and general purpose operating grants.
Third stream is created by the school itself, he said.
For Northern College, the Northern Training division sells customized programs and solutions to business and industry.
“We will be and have been staffing up in that area because we continue to see business opportunities there to pursue,” said Gibbons.
Also included in the announcement is a new Student Choice Initiative, which will allow students to choose what student fees they want to pay and how the money is allocated. The government says fees for essential campus health and safety initiatives will still be mandatory.
“What is real, and what will affect our students, is that we do collect student fees for our student association. That now becomes optional. It’s rather ironic that students are now going to be given the option to not pay a student fee towards providing activities that students would otherwise benefit from,” he said.
With a slash in tuition is the hope it will entice more people to enrol.
“Intuitively, you would think by making post-secondary education more affordable, more accessible that it would cause more students to attend college and university. I think that’s a reasonable assumption, that’s the one I want to go forward on, that’s how we will continue with our planning,” he said.
Last year when free tuition was introduced for qualifying families, he said enrolment didn’t increase, however.
“We also thought that that would drive more students into post-secondary, it absolutely did not. Not at Northern, and generally didn’t across the province of Ontario,” he said.
Before the cuts were officially announced, Timmins MPP Gilles Bisson said the reductions are a good start.
Without a plan to offset the college budgets to pay for it, he said it’s also a problem for the college.
“It’s really not the Ford government giving a reduction, it’s Northern College giving the reduction and that’s a problem for the college. I think it’s welcomed, but they really need to think about how do you make this affordable for the colleges themselves,” Bisson said.
The announcement does include a fund to help smaller northern institutions adjust to the rate reduction.
According to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities director of communications Stephanie Rea, more details about the fund, who’s eligible and how to apply will be available by March.
“Northern institutions tend to be more financially vulnerable due to their higher reliance on domestic tuition, historically weaker financial positions, and high overhead costs. It is also more challenging for them to respond to revenue reductions by attracting more international students or achieving efficiencies through economies of scale,” she wrote in an email.
She said the ministry will be working will all institutions to make sure they can provide a high-quality education.
“Recognizing the impact on institutional revenues, the Ministry is committed to working with financially vulnerable institutions to transition to the new tuition policy. A short-term sustainability fund has been established to support smaller, northern institutions that demonstrate immediate financial need in 2019-20, and a commitment to developing a plan to achieve long-term sustainability at lower domestic tuition levels,” she wrote.
Moving forward at Northern College, Gibbons said they must be more aggressive in recruiting.
“As the government constrains revenue on one side, the only way to make that up is with more students, but at the same time there’s a balancing act. We want to continue to provide a high-quality product, high-quality education and high-quality experience for our students. You can only do that with investment in technology, in labs, in new buildings, in things like. There is a balance you have to strike,” he said.
For the changes to OSAP, a government news release states resources will be focussed “on the families in greatest need while challenging our partners in the postsecondary sector to deliver better value for the high tuitions they already charge."