Education: you get what you pay for

Unfortunately, it’s time to pony up for fall tuition.

Writing a cheque for thousands of dollars is never a pleasant experience and it is a burden that my family and I wish we did not have. Imagine the possibilities if post-secondary education was totally funded by the provincial and federal governments, and you could write a cheque of zero dollars, payable to Mount Allison University.

As good as it sounds, free access to post-secondary education is an idea that is full of holes. Prevalent among these negatives is the problem of overcrowding and devaluation that free post-secondary education would create.

Most of us have heard the saying that an undergraduate degree is becoming the new high school diploma. From a purely market-oriented point of view, this is true to a certain extent. More young Canadians are graduating with an undergraduate degree than ever before. Given that the ability of an undergraduate education to give you a leg up on the competition in the hunt for a stable, well-paying job is already being compromised, do we really want to open the doors of academia to anybody that can academically qualify?

Wait until post-secondary education is tuition free before  complaining about class sizes. It is safe to say that there are many that would love to go to a place like Mt. A, and would, given the financial opportunity. It is a harsh position to take, but the fact of the matter is that free undergraduate education would increase class sizes, decrease the chances that a professor knows your name, and lead to having to pursue multiple degrees to remain competitive in the job market. I’m going to have a hard enough time selling myself to an employer as a member of the horde that is twenty-somethings with a B.A. Government-funded tuition would only make this problem worse.

The problems do not end here.

I do not trust governments to deliver my mail, much less to have the ability to properly fund a university.

Publicly funding a university is much more complicated than ‘one-student-equals-however-much-funding’. Which research areas would receive funding? Which faculty would be given funding priority? Which books and journals does the library purchase for its shelves?

These questions are difficult for university administrators, with years of experience in the education industry, to answer, and would be even more difficult for lawmakers who may have never darkened the doors of a university. It is irresponsible to trust a government to make the right choice in funding the diverse areas of a university. University administrators have been known to make mistakes, but at least they have vested interest in the success of the institution, unlike an MLA in Fredericton.

And it gets worse.

What is to guarantee that when times get tough (as they have been known to do in the Maritimes) that government won’t bring the cost-saving axe down upon post-secondary education funding. There is no guarantee that a faculty department will be able to buy a new piece of equipment or hire a new professor because government funding goes as easily as it comes. One minute the physics department could be ready to purchase some groundbreaking research equipment, and the next minute the overlords in Fredericton decide that they will have to wait until their next allowance. And meanwhile, other universities, without such limitations, jump ahead in the quantity and quality of research being conducted.

Free post-secondary education sounds great on paper, but like so many other high-minded ideas, it would fall flat during application. Education is expensive but I would rather pay through the nose for a quality product rather than get a sub-standard one for free.

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