Published on 2012/10/04

A Proposed Funding Model for Higher Education in Ontario and Canada

In order for more disadvantaged and low-income individual to gain access to higher education, more must be done to reduce their barriers to entry; namely cost.

Post-secondary education (PSE) includes colleges, universities, trade schools and co-op programs, can be organized privately and publicly, and is done so in the province of Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. PSE suffers from strains in funding, and a resulting competition among institutions to recruit more and more students, securing greater portions of public funding. This pressure impacts the quality and variety of programs, as well as the academic achievement of the students throughout the system.

It is time for a change in the PSE model.

We need to acknowledge the flaws and restraints in the current system of education at the post-secondary level and look at how this affects student achievement, and how they move on into the post-education workforce.

Who are we educating? A vast proportion of the student body comes from the upper and middle classes in our society. There are many reasons for this, such as family income, better schooling and grade scores, access to remedial services, family and personal focus on achieving a PSE degree or diploma, and many more. The students we are seeing enter the PSE systems are the ones with the most advantages and ability to at least partially fund their education and pick their preferred school.

The least-advantaged students will more often fail to go on to post-secondary education because the odds are stacked against them; they cannot afford books, housing, transportation or the lost income from a menial job in order to attend school.

The purpose of education is to provide the tools, knowledge, skills and experience that an individual needs to become a productive member of society, and to contribute to the strength of our economy through their work and production. When we allow the educational system in our province to promote and sustain the split between the highest and lowest income groups, we are simply creating a bigger problem for the years to come.

The cost associated with social assistance, welfare, low income housing, remedial costs to poor health, excessive drug use, crime, and social dysfunction are related to the economics of our workforce and the income levels of our population.

We need to educate the poorest and least advantaged students first.

The following is a proposed model I have designed to address the social and economic issues we face through Post Secondary Education.

For public post-secondary institutions, education must be free of cost, including books, subsidized accommodation where required, subsidized transportation, and meal programs. Accommodation will be provided on a needs basis, with those farther from the school having priority, and then sorted by family income. Some costs in providing ‘free education’ can be recovered with a negative tax credit that begins at zero for low income families and increases to a fixed percentage at the highest income levels.

PSE will be provided with a capped enrollment limit. 80 percent of enrollment spots will be held for residents in Ontario or students with at least one parent who is a resident. Enrollment eligibility will be based on a provincial academic standard and arranged in order of family income, with the lowest first. In this model, the poorest students with the highest academic achievements get spots first, and wealthier family students have the second priority. There is no priority based on ethnicity, language or gender. The remaining 20 percent of seats are available for out-of-province and international students. The complete cost of education for this 20 percent is paid by the outside party, whether it is a province, country or a private source, at a rate only high enough to cover the cost of the service, or equal to the corresponding costs in the student’s place of origin. Because eligibility is based on academic achievement, there is a requirement for primary schools to encourage students to work hard, do well and reach an academic standard that will give them a place in PSE institutions.

The proposed cap on enrollment will not increase yearly in order to meet 100 percent of the requested seats or to generate income for the schools. Capacity increases will be determined by analysis of the changes in demographics across the province and education shifts in required or expected curriculum. Where population and enrollment are declining, a school may diversify the course offerings to support requirements for re-training or mature student enrollments. A school will not be closed as long as a need for the services can be found and utilized. Schools with extra capacity can offer more seats to international and out-of-province students, or develop upgrade courses, remedial courses, or retooling programs for the changes in our workforce.

All PSEs will use the same administrative tools and electronic learning tools throughout the province; support for both the programming and hardware components will be centrally managed with on-site staffing as required. All facets of the educational system below the political level will be incorporated into several of the institutions around the province where space is available and the location is practical.

Where it is practical and beneficial, schools will become associated with industry and businesses that can offer enhancements to the educational experience, provide practical learning experience, and make use of the potential R&D opportunities the schools provide. This association is not to be considered a tightly-focused training program for local industries alone. Industry comes and goes; yet to be able to use the expertise of local industrial workers and managers can add to the value of courses offered to students.

It is assumed the students who have access to the most financial resources or show the least aptitude for advanced secondary education will be able to partake in the private school system within Ontario, out-of-province options, or alternative skills and training programs.

Some of the benefits of this model:

  • The centralization of the support systems will save money and allow stable and planned operational changes.
  • Capped enrollment and free education will remove the competitive pressures and costs between each school, the continuous need to expand, and the need to recruit capital for these expansions.
  • There will be no loan burden for all enrolled Ontario students. They will be able to work for their future and be in a better position to achieve a positive start to their career right after leaving school.
  • Parents will also be able manage their household and economic future better, provided the family remains in Ontario.
  • Income tax policy could be modified to recover more general revenue from individuals and business, that would be directed toward the cost of the changes in the PSE funding model.

There is a point where scaling up an institution does not benefit the delivery and quality of education for the students. With new technologies it is possible to deliver course material through a distributed network to multiple PSE sites, rather than consolidating the students in specific courses in one or two locations.

Distribution of courses across such a network also reduces cost by allowing small satellite locations where multi-purpose structures can be built and used for many purposes in the communities. This model will also benefit remote accessibility in far north or off-road communities.

In fact, it is conceivable that in the near future, the larger schools will begin to disband as the need for physical space and associated accommodation is no longer required to deliver the course material to the student body.

In this proposed model, a significant amount of monitoring is required to ensure both the quality of the material delivered to students and the effective delivery of that material, in order to avoid high dropout rates and a lower than expected scholastic achievement in the academic program. These concerns can easily be averted with mobile instructional teams, student work groups, or teams that travel to specific sites for intense material review and remedial work as required. Additionally, some students that require actual face-to-face interaction with instructors can be identified and given preference where accommodation is available at the primary PSE site.

It is also possible to contain the cost of faculty, support, and administrative staffing with the consolidation of services. Consolidation will reduce the numbers of staff required for standardized services, possibly utilizing the expertise of part-time, semi-retired and community resident educators to assist in the distributed sites. Often the remuneration for these staff can be partially provided in non-dollar benefits, tax credits, free academic opportunities, and deferred benefits for children or relatives.

The greatest burden on government is the servicing of the underprivileged, those on the bottom of the socio-economic scale, and any group who have not attained enough personal resources, education, or both to overcome all the costs and hurdles life will throw their way. The government, whether we want to admit it or not, is the catch-all social safety net for all Canadians. Where it fails, we see more social unrest, homelessness, drug, alcohol, crime and health problems and an acceleration of the economic divide between the haves and have-nots in our communities.

Building from the bottom up—and making it a real possibility for more impoverished people, young and old, to go to school and become well-educated—is the surest way we have to solving the poverty dilemma and the economic burden that it has become for the country.

I am sure my model will be considered unorthodox and radical. It stands the system on its head, so to speak. But think about it; we have built our educational system to the advantage of the rich and middle classes. They are already the higher achievers; not because they are smarter, but because they have parental pressure and support, a good start and a high enough family income to overcome personal limitations. The poor can barely afford the bus fare, let alone the textbooks and tuition at the school of their choice.

This is the reality we need to change.

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