An Open Student Letter to the Selkirk College Board of Governors

Dear Board Members:
Re: Proposed Tuition Fee Increases – Letter of Protest

As a mature student who has enjoyed Selkirk College credit and non-credit (Distance and ‘Bum-in-the-Seat’) courses for a number of years, I am writing to indicate my dismay by the Board’s planned consideration of a tuition fee increase.

I am a current student, I have an adult daughter who completed her education elsewhere in the province, and I have a son who is a Camosun Plumbing grad, and now a 2nd year Nursing student down on the Coast.

The bulk of my courses have been taken in recent decades while I ever so slowly make progress working towards a degree. I put aside my studies while I raised two children who now experience the same financial struggles I endured. Long, long ago, I was a working student forced out of full-time post-secondary by having to combine a job with part-time studies. I then sought full-time employment in order to retroactively pay for my studies. Lack of affordability interrupted my post-secondary education for longer than my child-raising years. I am a testament to what happens when tuition continues to rise. I tried to stay in school by working during term time, then eventually I had to forgo my studies and just work. With the cost of tuition, school became an ill-afforded luxury. In our family’s case, all three student members have relied on or currently study with the support of external funding, largely due to the fact that tuition in this province is too expensive for many students to afford school without assistance.

My daughter has been paying off her student loans for over ten years, and will continue for some time. Her graduate studies are on the back burner. She is terrified of returning to school for the same reason she didn’t continue her studies more than ten years ago – the prospect of increasing her debt load due to Canada’s relatively hefty tuition fees alarms her.

Last night my nursing student son in Victoria was “on the brink” as he told me he will probably have to find work due to a shortfall in the external funding that supplements his summer earnings. His alternative in finding funds to augment his student loans, will be to take out a loan from our credit union, ​IF t​ hey will approve this for him with his current student loan debt load. (He is a Camosun student counterpart to those here in the Selkirk Nursing program – all will end up with degrees from the University of Victoria). He combines his already heavy course load with two full days a week as an unpaid student nursing clinician in hospital practical sessions, which are mandatory for the school entire year. Despite an amazing scholarship from one of the “big banks”, he, a careful spender who knows how to budget, has already amassed student loan debt and is distracted by the thought of having to repay those loans. That he and his contemporaries are being forced to seek bank and credit union loans in order to support basic living and tuition costs is an unreasonable situation when the country needs medical and other student professionals to graduate debt- and worry-free.

How will our nursing and other professional students find the time to add low-paying or minimum-waged work shifts – precarious employment at that – to their class times, their study hours and their practical clinical obligations?

Financial pressures apply to most Selkirk students … and similarly to ​allstudents in Canada. Students mortgage their lives in order to educate themselves to be productive members of society. Whether they are here at home as student nationals, or whether they will return home, abroad, as Selkirk’s International student graduates, the economic strain for students is palpable.

To add to a student’s financial worries by increasing student debt or by making post-secondary education elusive by rising tuition fees is a disservice to the future of this country.

Constantly, I hear international students on their phones in the cafeteria and in the stairwells begging family members in India or other countries to please find ways to send more money so they can pay their fees before being forced to unenroll. I have received calls from International students imploring me to rent him or her a room for $200 or $250 because “Ma’am I have to pay $5000 tuition, I cannot afford regular (affordable in current terms) room rent.” They are asking their families and the local communities to effectively subsidise their education costs by by increasing their support, or by reducing their charges. Three, four, five students cram into local one bedroom apartments, or one room motel accommodations or single bedrooms in Selkirk’s generous neighbourhoods because they cannot afford to eat properly after struggling to pay tuition that is already expensive.

Students who suffer and worry about their finances cannot concentrate on their schoolwork. They, ​we,​ are desperate. Students simply cannot afford living expenses, ridiculously priced textbooks, and ​current ​tuition fees, let alone a rise in tuition fees.

Selkirk College is renowned for its philosophy regarding accessible education. We have brilliant, committed, compassionate faculty (​wellunderpaid by the way – which is actually a form of tuition subsidy​). We have supportive non-teaching staff, and kind administrators who make it their business to get to know individuals in order to support them throughout their studies. Even the cafeteria staff are full of encouragement as sleepy-eyed students drag themselves through the cash-desk for a decently-priced coffee or for amazing meals that are substantial enough to affordably share with a friend or two. We have janitorial and security staff who are kind and good-humoured to everyone who shares this incredible community, especially after-hours and on weekends when the over-crowded library and “the pit” are in constant use. The Selkirk community is all about access ​and retention. However, if the fees are increased, “we the people” will either not be able to afford to come or will have to leave …

Selkirk’s unique approach to not ​getting in the way ​of student success, but to proactively ensure achievement by cheer-leading from all corners, has to be part of the consideration when fees are discussed. To increase tuition fees flies in the face of all the accessible education programmes for which Selkirk is known. Even the local radio station announcers “wax on” about this beacon of hope, our treasured educational institution located in pockets throughout the region. This is unheard of outside the Kootenays.

The sports teams are called the ‘Saints’ with good reason. The name “selkirk” has its origins in Scotland, and in Gaelic means: “hall”(sel) of “church”(kirk). Selkirk has had a long-held, almost biblical, ​mission ​of protecting post-secondary options for those in need, or “hungry” for an education, i.e. those who would not otherwise have access to affordable studies. Selkirk is a blessing to this province and to the people in the region. As ethical guardians of accessibility we can’t have come this
far to now make an evil mess of what’s so wonderful about this school.

Please reject the notion of a tuition fee increase and instead work to find creative methods to approve a responsible balanced budget that reflects the financial reality of a student’s life. There ​are ​ways … Your board is made up of some very influential and creative professionals who have experience making things work out. Please actually consider something even more reasonable: reduce and/or eliminate fees in the future.

By sourcing funding in ways other than on the backs of vulnerable students who need to not worry about staying in school, (or staying in the country), Selkirk College will sustain its well-earned reputation as a unique and true facilitator of excellence in post-secondary education.

Students should be concerned only about attending to their studies, meeting the obligations of their programs, and honouring the inspirations of their committed faculty. By being successful in their goals to succeed – with an affordable education – students will continue to be patriotic ambassadors of Selkirk college, and that is hardly an unsaintly outcome.

How will students be expected to follow Selkirk’s motto, “​Best of all, inquire​”, if they are not able to afford to maintain studies here?

Let’s not “sell” out Selkirk …

Respectfully yours,
Sheila Perret
TESOL and MTED student 2018-19