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Posted on Sep 1, 2015

Tuition Fees: What Is Fair?

Tuition Fees: What Is Fair?

by Tim Williams, SCSBC Director of Finance ◊

Schools charge parents tuition fees to cover the expenses not already paid for by the provincial government of running the school. A school needs to determine what tuition philosophy will be used in sharing these costs among the parent community. This leads to the question of what is fair? The struggle over principles of fairness may cause some heated discussions at times.

To illustrate the conundrum facing boards, let’s postulate some questions:

  • If it costs $10,000 per year to educate a child at your school, and the provincial government block grant for the child is $4,000, is it fair to charge the net amount of $6,000 to the child’s parents in tuition fees?

Perhaps you said yes. Perhaps you said no, or that you need some more information before forming an opinion.

  • If a family with four children at your school costs a total of $40,000 per year to educate and the provincial government block grant for the four children is $16,000, is it fair to charge the net amount of $24,000 to the child’s parents in tuition fees?

Perhaps you said yes. Perhaps you said no, or that you need some more information before forming an opinion.

Tuition PendulumIf one were to imagine a pendulum with two extreme positions, a user pay principle (per student cost model) on the one hand and a community ethic (per family tuition model) on the other, it would be easy to see where your school currently defines fairness in tuition fees. In reality, schools often pick a hybrid model between the two extremes when determining tuition fees, ie. the first child tuition is a higher cost and each subsequent child is discounted. Families with only one child may complain, thinking that this is unfair, until they are pregnant with their second child only to find out they are having twins. It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child and so Christian schools don’t generally take an individualistic or economic rationalist perspective of fairness when determining tuition fees.

The fairness debate comes up at times when schools are contemplating changing their tuition structure. The need to change tuition structure happens due to many factors such as:

  • changing demographic trends, eg. smaller families
  • community attitudes regarding fairness, eg. the growing trend towards individualism in Western culture
  • the changing nature of some schools eg. allowing non-Christian families to enrol.

Some schools have such a complex tuition formula that potential new parents need a doctorate to understand what their tuition fees will be. Often simplicity and the need to provide clear communication to new parents complicates the discussion of fairness.

When tuition fee structures change, a school board needs to be conscious that this decision is more than a financial decision, and often stomps upon deeply held views concerning the definition of fairness. Boards need to lead well in this area. Maintaining the status quo, while easy, may not be in the best long term interests of the school. My advice for boards is to listen well, help the parent community process the change, and take the time to work with those families that may be harmed by the change eg. helping them access student financial assistance where needed.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity … for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore! (Psalm 133:1-3).

This discussion is not a legal, moral or even a biblical one. It is a board attempting to provide wise stewardship to meet the expenses of the school in the fairest possible way. There are pros and cons for all tuition models and each school needs to periodically review tuition structure to match the context of their school community.

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