• The price that we have to pay for free college education

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    ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

    ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

    CONGRESS has approved a budget that appropriates P8.3 billion to, in the words of CHEd chair Tati Licuanan, “remove tuition from the student’s expenses.”

    In short, beginning school year 2017-2018, all state universities and colleges (SUCs), including the University of the Philippines (UP), will no longer collect tuition fees from their students, even as they will still charge for miscellaneous fees.

    Who would not be ecstatic?
    After all, how can one find fault in this socially progressive policy that ensures free public tertiary education? This is even one step beyond what is provided for in the Constitution, where only basic education is mandated to be free in public schools.

    However, what seems to be a progressive move appears to have been merely a budgetary maneuver. It is a budgetary insertion as a line item, and not a deliberate stand-alone legislation that spells a shift in educational policy. The amount was taken out of the ARMM’s allocation on suspicious public works projects, and was poured into CHEd but earmarked for tuition waivers and not as a discretionary fund for Tati Licuanan.

    It also can have regressive effects. This attempt to make public education free even at the tertiary level can in fact become a harbinger for social injustice.

    At the outset, I must posit that providing free education to the children of poor families should be an obligation by the state, and these should not just be limited to basic education, but even to tertiary education.

    What will make free college education problematic is that it faces the risk of being totally blind to social inequality, even as it tries to treat all students equal regardless of their social class.

    In 2014, 40 percent of all UP students came from families with a monthly income of at least P100,000, or an annual income, including the 13th month pay, of at least P1.3 million. UP is no longer a university that serves the children of the masa. It is also now home to children of the elite, graduates of exclusive private high schools, sons and daughters of bank executives and millionaires. During my time, they were just a minority. There was only one in our batch who drove his own car to school. But times have changed. Four out of 10 is no longer an innocuous minority. Student parking has now become a problem at UP.

    In a scenario where all students of UP will not pay tuition fees, even children of millionaires who happen to study at UP will enjoy a tuition-free college education. It is terribly unjust for the education of someone whose family earns so much from the business empire they own to become an expense in the government’s budget drawn from taxes that include those paid by their low-salaried employees.

    And this injustice is even more magnified when the children of their employees could not get into UP because of very competitive entrance examinations, for which they are seriously handicapped when compared to the children of the millionaire boss who went to private high schools. This is not because the former are less intelligent, but simply because their public schools did not provide them with better preparation compared to the more well-endowed private high schools.

    What would make the policy of tuition-free college education fair is not a blanket waiver on tuition regardless of income, but a two-tier system where an income threshold is identified and anyone whose family income is below it would get full tuition waivers, and anyone above it will have to pay.

    Funds should also be appropriated to improve public basic education to ensure that all K to 12 schools in the country become centers of excellence, and acquire the competence of what could be considered as the equivalent of the elite science high schools. This will ensure that any of their graduates can be on a par with graduates of private high schools, and would be on an even footing when they take college entrance tests. This is needed to make sure that children from poor families who graduate from free public basic education can have a higher chance of passing the UPCAT and other competitive admission tests from the SUCs, so that they can continue their free education in college.

    Without socialized income bracketing, which doesn’t have to be as complicated as the one existing at UP, and an affirmative intervention to improve the quality of public basic education, the policy of free public tertiary education for all can only perpetuate social injustice.

    The price we will pay for a free college education without adequate protective safeguards, is the specter of children of high-income families who can afford to go to La Salle or Ateneo, passing the open competitive entrance tests and easing out children of lower-income families from enrolling at the SUCs and not only UP, effectively preventing them from enjoying a benefit that by design is supposed to be for them.

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    15 Comments

    1. My proposal is more radical than Duterte’s tuition free state education and I hope La Salle full profs like Contreras agree. The State should force La Salle to take 50% of the “masa” and the 50% rich partly subsidize them. Same is true for Ateneo. Of course these universities can screen “masa” applicants if they can make the cut. Of course that would mean Contreras will have to take a pay cut!

    2. Free college education is one best move but expensive way to be implemented by this government that can help solve the perennial traffic problem in Metro Manila. But only if the government will implement it in the provinces but not in the Metro Manila regions. The budgets for MM can be used for expanding the coverage in the provinces. More provinces can be included in the program.
      Wage earners in MM will perhaps consider transferring their college bound students to their home province or prefer living to nearby provinces where their students can continue their college education choices for free. More so with those family members who are already presently studying in the their respective provinces. No need for them to migrate to MM as they can continue their schooling free of financial worries. Its the wage earners who will only be traveling instead of their family.
      Any ways most provinces are now high tech.. everyone has mobile phone. Malls are there too or nearby..
      This is a good promise by the President that should be a reality..

    3. Socialize system. Tuitions will be based on Income tax Returns of the parents, Guardians etc. Poor but deserving Children will be prioritized.This was applied in MSU system. BIR will be very busy. Also, the lesser the tax, the lesser the tuition (no income, no tuition); the better the grades, the lesser the tuition fee. Dean’s Listers will have free tuition. That’s why, National ID system will be very vital on this matter.

      • You got the best proposal. Those who do not pay the government any taxes should not receive any free tuition free. Also the grades that they receive in school should be a basis for this free tuition fee grant. Since we are a poor country, many Filipinos rely on dole outs to survive. Hence, we have a hingi-hingi mentality. It would take great courage for a politician to implement what is right in view of the mentality of the majority of our citizens. We should be thankful to God that Duterte is trying to correct the glaring inefficiencies of our constitution — like the provision on martial law and other things. When the issue of the burial of Marcos was taken up by the GMA administration, they refused to authorize the burial because of public opposition to such move. But Duterte had the courage to uphold the law and settle once and for all the burial issue of Marcos. He is now reviving the Bataan Nuclear Plant which his predecessors were afraid to open up because of the controversy involved. Let us pray that Duterte will succeed in his reforms. The tuition fee reform is not perfect, but at least he has been pushing for reforms in many areas.

    4. How about making it a requirement that the free college tuition for the SUC should only apply if the freshman also graduated from a public highschool. If the incoming freshman were to say come from a private highschool, then they should present a proof of income to show their parents are from the low income bracket. Otherwise, they are to pay the tuition fee in full.

    5. Tukayo, thank you, as usual for your clear analysis of such a situation! However, I wish to mention one issue about public schools and government “imposed policy and regulations”! My wife, now a retired public school teacher in a public school in a Pampanga town, was telling me about a CHED {?} directive that they ‘cannot’ or ‘must not fail’ a student, “no matter what?”!!! For these reasons, many of her students, were not going to class anymore, knowing that they will pass anyway!!!! And knowing further the kind of families of the said students, “it seems, parents seem not to care if their children learn anything in school”…or perhaps, not even aware of the whereabouts of their children! It is a sad, sad situation!!! Of course, majority of students in the same school still pursue their studies diligently with the main one goal…to go further in their education to succeed in life and do better…than their parents!!!!

      I put quotation marks on many issues as per above, because I do not have factual and clear knowledge of such issues!!! Regret about that!!!

      Having taught in college myself, some decades ago {!!!!} [for almost 10 years, that is], I heard from some of my ex-students…some I have met lately, there is one comment I heard from them…”Sir, what you were teaching us that time…now that I am in business myself…I am applying those that you taught us!!!” I was teaching then some Managements courses, Mgt. 1 & 2 Business Organization, etc.

      Just an opinion!

      tony

    6. Fully agree with this post. There is still balance when you factor in that the workers who get 100k also gets taxed the maximum of 32% and that 32k goes to students from families who don’t even pay taxes.

    7. Why discuss only about UP when there are a number of good SUC’s. Most of our national leaders came from good universities like UP, Ateneo, La Salle, etc. but where are we now? The ordinary SUC’s are producing more graduates who are now OFW’s that send a substantial amount to our coffers while our leaders (from UP et al) spends it wantonly.

    8. One can think of it this way. The state pays for the tuition of the SUC students because they are bright, not because of their family income level. Para ding sa trabaho. Ang sweldo ay hindi naka-base sa income level ng employee, pero sa galing.

    9. I agree. There should be strict screening as to who will be eligible. Students who have the means should not be included here.

    10. I think free tuition and miscellaneous fees should be limited to legitimate 4Ps beneficiaries only. Marami dyan mayaman na nagaaral sa UP naka kotse pa.

    11. even with the inclusion of these 40% of rich kids of UP in the program still this will give too much help to many poor students who are enrolled and to be enrolled to other SUC’s in their localities, we have to accept the fact that not all poor kids can qualify to UP, even if they have the intellectual capacity to compete with the high standard of being accepted in UP…actually i don’t think that it is even unfair for these rich kids to qualify for the program since their parents are paying more taxes than the less fortunately who pay less or no tax at all to the state ….i think at this point we have to look at the greater benefit this program will bring to the less fortunate and let us address its imperfection later, anyway this is the first time that we are given this benefit let us enjoy it, while we are waiting a law that will institutionalized it in our educational system, by then, congress has to conduct public hearings and review to the program.. besides there can never be equality in this world , some will be poor , some will be rich , some will be lazy , some will be lucky .. we exist because of that imperfection , otherwise if equality exist then we are living in heaven ..

      • I disagree, i think the upper class students should be made to pay because they actually have MORE income and pay LESS taxes than the middle classes can and this affects every aspect of their schooling – from the daily commute to the perks of having college funds and relatives in power. Why SHOULD the state pay the education for those kids?

      • Spot on! Hindi naman nila kasalanan na sila ang pumapasa sa UP. Pag bobo din naman ang magaral sa UP e the quality will definitely suffer. Tama ka to just address the imperfections later…….