Deregulated tuition and the high cost of education

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It is the start of another school year tomorrow but Anna Dominic Dar, 19, is worrying if she can still enroll. With her unpaid balance from last year almost equivalent to a semester’s tuition, and her family struggling to cope with financial problems, she is doubtful if she can pay for her education this year. Again.

Dar should be in her last year of Business Management in the University of the East-Manila, if she is able to enroll. She could have graduated last March if she had not been forced by her family’s circumstances to stop for a year and work as a telemarketer and part-time model.

“Hindi naman kasi talaga kami mayaman [We’re not really rich],” Dar told The Manila Times. She explained that although she worked, it was still her parents who came up with ways to come up with the money for her enrollment because she could not save.

“Yung mga talent fee ginagamit lang din naming dito sa bahay, kaya hindi [The talent fees I receive from modeling goes to our expenses at home that’s why I can’t save],” she said.

Dar’s father is a small-scale miner in Paracale, Camarines Norte while her mother manages their struggling vocational training center. She is the eldest among three siblings.

Accepting the fact that she could not enroll for the second semester of 2012-2013 was hard for Dar—but because she saw their family business going down and money had become scarce, she just told her parents that she would not enroll anymore.

“Ako na rin yung nagsabi na okay lang na di muna ako mag-enroll [I was the one who told them that it’s okay for me not to enroll anymore],” she said.

Now, the same thing is about to happen again. She still has a pending balance that is increasing because of the 10 percent interest rate penalty imposed on late payments.

If she again misses the enrollment period, Dar will be one of the millions of Filipino youth unable to continue their education. She would remain an out-of-school youth.

Tuition increase
According to the National Statistics Office’s 2011 data, there are 6.24 million or one in every eight Filipinos aged six to 24 who are unable to study because of two reasons: they either lack the morale to pursue their education, or the high cost of education has made enrollment impossible.

Every year, it has become the practice among higher educational institutions (HEIs) to increase tuition and other fees to cope with the rising inflation and meet the rising operational expenses. Last week, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declared that out of 451 HEIs that sought tuition increases, 354 of were given the go signal.

This year’s figures doubled from last year wherein only 222 HEIs increased their tuition and other fees.

These schools include: the Ateneo de Manila University, P118 per unit (a five percent increase from last year); De La Salle University, P106.20 per unit (up 4.62 percent); University of Santo Tomas, P71.16 per unit (up 4.01 percent); University of the East-Manila, P62.67 per unit (up 3.48 percent); Far Eastern University, P55 per unit (up 3.49 percent); Centro Escolar University-Manila, P25.50 per unit (up 3.01 percent); and National University, P75.30 per unit (up 7.84 percent).

These figures do not include increases in school fees.

In the National Capital Region (NCR), the average tuition increase this year is 6.79 percent or a rise to an average of P64.04 per unit, while on the national level, the average tuition increase is 8.51 percent or P37.45 per unit.

This means that for every semester with 21 units, there is an average of P1,344.84 increase in NCR schools and P786.45 on the national level.

According to CHED spokesman Atty. Julito Vitriolo, HEIs usually cite the inflation rate, necessary salary increases, and facility improvement as the reasons for tuition increase.

Once a school undergoes genuine consultation and submits documents proving that they allot 70 percent of tuition to teachers’s salaries and 20 percent to facility and equipment purchase, the application for increase is most likely approved, as stipulated in the Education Act of 1982.

“Pag dumaan sa consultation, mayroong presumption na may usap ang parties involved kasi hindi lamang estudyante ang kaharap, kundi pati yung mga guro, kawani at yung alumni [When the sought increase has undergone consultation, there is a presumption that there was a discussion among the parties involved because it is not the students the school talks to—even the teachers, staff, and alumni],” Vitriolo said.

Proposals for tuition and other fees increases will only be rejected once the school’s proposal is deemed questionable and contains “documents spurious to their claims.”

He also noted that the HEIs that increased this year only comprise 21 percent of more than 2,200 HEIs in the country.

“Ang nangyayari dito, actually, nagbabantayan ang mga paaralan. Tinitingnan nila kung magtataas yung kapitbahay nilang paaralan. Kung hindi naman, di na rin sila magtataas, at kung magtataas, sasabayan nila ng konti [What actually happens here is that schools are guarding their neighboring institutions if they are going to increase. If others won’t increase, then they won’t either and if others do, they would join them],” he said.

He, however, denied that education is already becoming a business—it’s just the market forces at work.

“Kasi unang-una, natatakot yung eskwelahan na magtaas ng masyadong mataas sa tuition nila kasi alam nila ang mga estudyante nagiisip din [In the first place, the schools are afraid of drastically increasing their tuition rates because students are also thinking],” and weighing their options.

At the elementary and high school levels, students of private schools can always transfer to public schools, while those in the college level can always shop around for other schools which charge less.

How frequent?
Vitriolo admitted that there is no rule as to how frequent a school can increase their tuition. Some schools increase yearly, while others increase every three to five years.

“Wala namang hard and fast rule dyan, actually yung iba, halos taun-taon pero maliliit yung pag-iincrease para lamang makasabay sa inflation [There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to tuition increase. Others actually increase fees gradually per year to cope with the inflation].”

Redundant school fees are also a lingering problem that the commission has yet to look into. In UST, for example, there is a sports fee (P150) and athletic fee (ranging from P1,250 to 1,500), which are entirely different from the physical education (P.E.) fee paid for the student’s P.E. subject.

Marya Lazo, an incoming third year journalism student and chairperson of the Alliance of Concerned Thomasians (Act-Now!), also lamented the redundant fees that the students pay. For example, they pay a special development fee (P2,000), physical infrastructure development fee (P1,700), and information development fee (P1,700).

“Bakit kami magbabayad ng mga fees na yan, diba dapat kasama na yan sa tuition? Saka nagdodonate ang mga alumni gaya ng APO [Alpha Phi Omega fraternity] ng mga facilities [Why should we pay for these fees? Shouldn’t these be included in our tuition? And besides, the alumni—like APO—are donating buildings and facilities],” she told The Manila Times.

They also pay a certain learning management system fee, which ranges from P65 to P100, and psychological and drug testing fee even though not all students undergo such test, Lazo pointed out.

Under the law, for a non-stock, non-profit institution like UST, 70 percent of tuition should go to the salaries and payments of faculty and staff while the remaining 30 percent should go to equipment and facilities. Whereas in a corporation, 20 percent should be allocated to equipment and facilities and 10 percent will be for the return of investment.

According to Vitriolo, the commission will still study the redundancy of some school fees, in line with the provisions of CHED Memorandum Order 3 series of 2012. He noted that under the memo, schools cannot increase miscellaneous and other school fees and cannot introduce new school fee without the students’ consent.

“Medyo masusing bantayan yan. Siguro sa susunod na panahon, pag-aaralan natin yung mungkahi na may redundant fees na at dyan siguro, magkaroon tayo ng aksyon dyan [We should thoroughly keep an eye on it. Maybe next time, we will look into the instances of redundant fees and maybe, we’ll have an action over it],” he told The Manila Times.

“Papaexplain natin sa paaralan kung saan nga ba ginagamit yan [We will ask the school to explain where those fees are used].”

Increasing migration
Over the past 10 years, students enrolled in state colleges and universities (SCUs) has increased drastically. Before, according to Vitriolo, 80 to 90 percent of the enrollment was in the hands of the private sector; today, it has dropped to 60 percent.

Today, more students are transferring from private to state colleges and universities because of increasing school costs.

“In the extreme case magtaas lahat, wala silang choice, mayroon pa silang mapupuntahan, ang mga state universities and colleges na gumaganda naman yung kalidad ngayon pero mura din naman ang tuition [In the extreme case when all schools increased, they had no choice, they can still go to state universities and colleges which are somehow increasing its quality but still with low tuition rates].”

Lawyer and Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said that the increasing migration of students from private schools to SCUs is expected with the unabated tuition and other fees increases.

He pointed out that the CHED has become powerless in the regulation of tuition and other fees.

“How long have these increases been going on anyway?” he asked. “Kahit pa 21 percent lang ito ng total number of schools, ano na ba ang average tuition rate ngayon? Mahigit doble na nga over the last ten years [Even though it’s just 21 percent of the total number of schools, what is the average tuition rate today? It has doubled over the past 10 years].”

In a computation by the group, a student studying in NCR with a 21-unit load will have to pay P21,610.89 on average per semester on top of the miscellaneous and other school fees.

This is an increase from the P20,266.05 tuition rate per semester in 2012.

He added that consultation, in fact, has become nothing more than a presentation of fees increases.

Still legal
That education is a big business is undeniable. Some of the country’s taipans have purchased or taken control of well-known colleges or universities.

Henry Sy of the SM Group, for example, now controls National University. Beer and tobacco magnate Lucio Tan has the University of the East as part of his conglomerate. Former ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco of RCBC and the Malayan Group of Companies took over the Mapua Institute of Technology a few years ago. They would not have purchased these institutions of higher education had they not seen the huge profit potential in owning a private school.

It goes without saying that tuition is the main source of income for all private schools, although other fees can also add to the bottom line.

Though the school fees have drastically increased over the past years, Ridon explained that this is still in the legal framework because of the Education of Act of 1982, which basically allowed private institutions of learning to set their own rates.

Under the law, “each private school shall determine its rate of tuition and other school fees or charges.”

“The law deregulated tuition rates and it allowed schools to introduce redundant, dubious and exorbitant fees,” Ridon said. “Look where we got, 31 years after. The Philippines still lags behind in terms of quality education. Education has become merely a business, a commodity.”

“The decreases in opportunities for education makes students opt for more ‘profitable’ courses which in turn are catered towards creating cheap labor,” he added.

Today, Dar—like the millions of out-of-school-youth—is still praying she can finish her studies, come what may, as earning a degree is her only hope for a brighter future and a better life.

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