The Okanagan College board of governors instituted a tuition freeze Tuesday on all fees for programs and courses that cost more than 10 per cent above the provincial average, earning appreciation from students.
The decision means that for the second year in a row about 50 per cent of the college’s students — plus the roughly 20 per cent who pay no fees at all — will see no change in their tuition.
For the last five years provincial rules have permitted colleges to raise their tuition by two per cent. However, recognizing that due to its university college roots many of Okanagan College’s fees were set at above average rates when the rules where instituted, the college’s board has only once chosen to raise all its tuition fees in the past five years.
Board chair Lance Kayfish called the latest tuition freeze a “student-centric decision.”
“Earlier this year, we adopted a new strategic plan and one of our core values is accessibility for students,” he said. “This decision reflects our commitment to our students.”
OC public affairs director Allan Coyle noted the college’s tuition rate was set after consultation with its students.
“We are one of the few institutions in the province that conduct in earnest conversation with our students about tuition, but we also included in the conversation a discussion about our budget situation and the students respect that and have their point of view,” he said. “They came into the meeting yesterday hoping for a complete freeze but recognizing that the institution still has an obligation to speak to its bottom-line.”
Okanagan College Penticton Student Union chair Cory Nelmes said the decision is a pleasing one.
“I think it is positive for students,” said Nelmes. “It is obviously not exactly what we went into (the consultation) wanting, a full freeze of course would always be better, but 70 per cent of programs frozen isn’t anything to scarf at.
“It is a victory. I think it is hard to expect the college to work with us at all because if you look at colleges across the province it is very rare that a board of governors will sit down and work with students the way the board at Okanagan College does.”
Most of the schools, Nelmes said, have simply instituted two per cent increases across the board without consideration for their students.
“(The OC board) are demonstrating their leadership, not only with the sustainable practices that the institution has taken on recently with the new building, but also in working with students,” she said. “They are standing above the crowd as an educational institution.”
Nelmes said the real body college students around B.C. should be lobbying regarding their tuition fees is the provincial government.
“Colleges, unlike their university counterparts, are not funded at the rate of inflation, so boards often struggle when they are making those decisions of whether or not to increase tuition because really tuition increases are the only revenue increase that they are getting,” she explained. “But the costs go up every year for things such as electricity or water just as much at a college as they go up at a university.”
Colleges should enjoy the same rate of inflation increases in their funding as universities do, Nelmes said.
“It affects people especially in communities like Penticton and other rural communities across the province because colleges are often a place where mature students who have families and who are settled go to upgrade and better their lives,” she asserted. “It is generally also a place where younger students can go, staying at home and saving money.
“As well, every dollar a student saves in tuition is $3.80 that goes back into our local economy, which is a service-based economy.”