sorry, i can’t afford it / the sfu budget and student aid

Foggy crowOn Thursday, March 26, the SFU Board of Governors reviewed and approved the proposed university budget. [n.b.: you can view a PDF of the budget here and you can read a quick analysis of the impacts here.]

I am currently a member of the Board of Governors, elected by and from the students, and I voted against the budget for a number of reasons, some of which I will detail over the next couple of days. Importantly, you will note that I said that the budget was approved — while I voted against it, this was my action, and the views I express here are my own, shared as they might be by members of the SFU community.

In this update, I will focus on the issues of student aid, as they are affected by the budget. First, the budget document (in an appendix to the main document) raised most tuition fees by 2.0%, which is the most that the Board can raise tuition in any one year.

This quite simply means that education is again more expensive for students.  Assuming a 30-credit year, a domestic undergrad student’s tuition will be $4,719.1  That breaks down to about $589 a month, assuming an 8 month year, but tuition needs to be paid in full at the beginning of each semester.  Likely kind of difficult.

It’s made even more difficult by the cuts to student aid that were passed in the budget for 2009/10.  I apologize in advance for the amount of numbers coming up, but this story is best expressed in numbers.  And the cuts are in big numbers.  More after the jump.

First, this is the amount (rounded to the thousand) that SFU spent on student aid in 2008/2009:2


This is the budgeted amount of student aid —  that is, this is how much we had actually planned to spend:

0809-budgetYou’ll likely note that we spent more than we had planned to.  Here’s how much extra we spent this year on things like scholarships, awards, and bursaries:

0809-varianceWe spent nearly a million dollars more on student aid than we had planned on.  As many members of the university administration have noted in Board Finance Committee meetings, it’s not a bad thing, necessarily.  What the overspending means is that the university gave more students bursaries, awards, or scholarships than it had planned on.  The notes to the financial statements explain that the increase is attributable to a higher than expected acceptance rate on bursaries, scholarships, and awards.

So what are we planning for next year?  Well, here’s the budgeted amount of money that the university is planning on student aid in the next year:

0910-budgetYou’ll note, likely quite quickly, that this is an increase from this year, both in terms of budget and project actual amount of spending.  The budget document argues that student aid has increased 5% year-to-year, but what’s important to note is how small the increase is from what we actually spent this year:

a-b-increaseSo this means that we’re only increasing next year’s student aid budget by $33,000 over what we spent this year.  If you’re a grad student, you’ll notice that this amount is only equivalent to about 5 graduate fellowships.  If you’re an undergrad, we’re looking at about 16 average scholarships; less than ten full-year scholarships.

What’s even more frustrating is when you realize that next year’s budget for student aid has been increased by targeted funding for specific new graduate students we hope to recruit.  This money can’t be spent on anyone else; indeed, SFU does not get it unless we recruit the students that the funding is targeted towards.

How much is the targeted funding?

target-grad-moneySo in the budget for 2009/2010 — which was only increased from what we spent this year by $33,000, there’s a hidden $1.294 million reserved fund.  Since that money is not available to anyone else, I cancel it out (control for it) when I run the numbers.  So what’s the budget for student aid, next year, when we control for the targeted funding?

control-budgetWhich is a considerable decrease from both the actual spending done this year, and the budget spending this year.  How much?  Well, here’s the decrease from budget, which is less than we actually spent:

budget-cutAnd here’s the decrease from the aid we actually gave to students:

actual-cutThis means that once we factor out the targeted money — which can only apply to the targeted, new, graduate students — we see that there will be $1.261 million dollars less in student aid in 2009/10 than what we made available to students in 2008/2009.

Add onto this the fact that tuition is going up by 2% in most cases, and the fact that SFU requires that students be approved for BC Student Loans before they’re eligible for bursaries, and I fear that education will be altogether too unaffordable for some students next year.

What are your thoughts?  I’d like to compile comments on student aid for use at Senate and the Board of Governors.

  1. Tuition per credit-hour will be $154.90.
  2. This is a projection, meaning it’s a best estimate based on spending to date.  Actuals are only availbale after fiscal year-end, which is April.