Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2001

Students Pay More for Less

Rapidly rising tuition fees in the past decade have meant students are paying for less while access to university and college is becoming more fragmented along income lines, concludes a new CAUT report.

The study, University & College Accessibility: How & Why Have Fees Increased?, examines what factors have driven the rapid escalation in tuition and other fees in the 1990s and the impact the higher costs are having on accessibility.

The report finds that fees, when adjusted for inflation and measured on per full-time student basis, rose 64 per cent between 1990­91 and 1998­99, largely in response to a 25 per cent decline in public operating grants. However, higher expenditures by universities on student financial assistance have also contributed to the increase.

"Contrary to some perceptions, university expenditures on salaries have not been a factor in driving up costs," the report states. "In fact, spending on academic rank salaries, measured in constant dollars and per full-time equivalent student, was 16 per cent lower in 1998­99 than in 1990­91. In other words, students are paying more and are receiving less in return."

The study also reveals the main fallout from rising fees has been an increase in the inequality of opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education.

Using an "affordability index" to measure the share of after-tax family income needed to pay for tuition and other fees, the report finds that the 20 per cent of families with the lowest income would have had to set aside 14 per cent of their disposable income in 1990­ 91 to cover these costs. By 1998­ 99, the index rose to 23 per cent. For the richest 20 per cent of families, the index rose modestly from 3 per cent to 4 per cent over the same period.

"It is not inevitable that fees continue to rise," the study concludes. "The problem of higher fees is a political problem caused by the rapid public dis-investment in post-secondary education. As such, governments can take immediate steps to ensure that post-secondary education is affordable and accessible to all qualified students."

The report recommends governments increase public operating grants and provide a needs-based system of grants targeted toward economically disadvantaged students.