When students complain that even this is too high, it is in fact, like complaining about the outrageous cost of a liter of gasoline at 22¢ or a liter of milk at 43¢ or perhaps an analogy that students can understand, a marijuana joint for about $1.25*.
Imagine Quebec motorists marching in the streets because the government proposed to raise gasoline prices from 22¢ a liter to 30¢ over five years.
Of course this is of no never-mind to students who were brought up in the age of entitlement, where the government is expected to pay for the necessities of life, from cradle to grave.
When Premier Jean Charest raised tuition prices last year, it set off a firestorm of protest, pitting students who wanted to pay nothing for their education against taxpayers who didn't want to see their taxes go up to pay for the additional entitlement.
But public opinion was largely on the side of higher tuition, because taxpayers, although in love with their own entitlements, aren't fond of paying for entitlements that don't benefit themselves directly.
And so an emboldened Charest government fought the students tooth and nail and almost pulled off an improbable election victory on the back of the tuition issue.
It's too bad that the Charest government didn't give the students exactly what they asked for, a negotiation, because it would have been a glorious opportunity to fix the bloated, expensive and underachieving education system, particularly the disaster that the CEGEP system has become.
I'll preface all that I'm saying by pointing out that the following suggestions are generally directed at the francophone education system, because on the English side, competition, that ultimate driving force of innovation, success and excellence remains for the most part, alive and well.
The exception on the English side is Concordia University in Montreal, which has been allowed to grow much too large. Without enough quality students to go around, the school dropped its entrance requirements to the point that anyone who can sign their name gets in, resulting in an academic disaster, one that has directly led to Quebec's worst dropout rate among universities (30%), a fraction ahead the equally challenged UQAM.
Now because francophones have equal access to post-secondary English education, places in all Quebec English cegeps are hard to come by and competition is fierce, leading of course, to higher standards.
It is the law of supply and demand in its purest form.
Those who are academically challenged, yet still want to go to cegep, are welcomed with open arms on the francophone side where an overbuilt cegep and university system is facing a critical shortage of students. The situation is so desperate that the schools have resorted to collapsing the standards in order to fill places. Some French schools are so desperate that they are offering English courses, much to the consternation of language militants.
The problem is not students, but capacity,
The entire cost for free tuition for post-secondary education would be about $700 million, about 1% of the Quebec budget.
It really isn't that big a deal and is actually eminently doable as there is enormous room to trim the fat.
So let me make a couple of suggestions that would make free tuition possible, without costing the government a dime;
Suggestion Number 1 Eliminate CEGEP
Quebec remains the lone jurisdiction in the North America that forces all students into junior college, a system that poaches a year of high school and a year of university, sort of like middle school in the United States that bridges the gap between primary and high school.
If the Quebec system was successful, more provinces and states would consider adopting the cegep model, the fact that nobody has, speaks volumes.
The only equivalence to Quebec cegep system are the junior college's in the USA, known a 'Community colleges' where all are welcomed without enrollment standards. For this reason alone, they are considered a joke by serious academics. These schools cater to adults wishing to go back to school for either personal or employment reasons or unsuccessful people wishing to restart their life.
The cegep system is a mistake, totally superfluous and dysfunctional, its first sin is to rob students of the crucial twelfth grade of high school.
Many poor student enroll in cegep after high school just because they can, since standards are so low. These students aren't ready or willing to enter the work force, so pretending to go to school, ultimately to fail, is still a better choice.
As they say...nice work if you can get it!
For them, another year of high school where students are closely monitored (unlike cegep) would have been a godsend.
Like I said, the junior college system is unsuccessful in the few places world that have them, so having that system here and forcing everybody to attend cegep before college is a costly mistake.
Now I know that the likelihood of this first suggestion happening is nil, because to eliminate cegep would be an admission of failure, so my second suggestion is;
Suggestion Number 2 Reduce capacity by 25%
Quebec sends 25% more students to post-secondary than in the ROC. Unfortunately, taking in so many unqualified students leads to Canada's worst dropout rate, where about one third of students who enroll, don't earn any degree at all.
By reducing the number of students, standards can be raised, eliminating those destined to fail anyway. Right now, francophone schools are so desperate to fill places that you don't even need a high school diploma to enroll!
Paradoxically, reducing the number of student enrolled would hardly change the numbers who graduate.
Getting rid of students destined to fail reduces costs with no loss on the educational front.
It's a no-brainer
Suggestion Number 3 Free tuition with strings
The trouble with free education is not the additional cost, but rather the perception in the student's eye.
It is human nature to place little value on what we get for free, so giving students free education is not just about the economics, but respect.
With totally free education (and practically free education) students don't feel a pressure to succeed and spend more time loafing in school instead of diligently working on their degree.
So free tuition must be conditional, with students required to perform at a reasonable level of achievement and in a reasonable time frame.
Students who complete their degrees in the minimum time period without failing any classes could be awarded with a 100% tuition refund for their effort.
They would in fact have 'earned' their free tuition by their successful studies and would be given a cheque, representing all the tuition they paid in, upon graduation.
One lump sum, now that's incentive!.
Think of the pride that the student would enjoy in presenting the check to his or her parents, who paid for the tuition initially.
If the student took out loans to pay for tuition his or herself, imagine the joy in paying the debt off!
Contrarily, students who fail classes would forfeit the tuition that they paid in, the same for students who take light course loads and take extended vacations in cegep.
There could be a menu of incentives and disincentives, it's a matter of setting boundaries.
Perhaps students who fails a class but want to restore his or her good record (to win back their tuition) could be offered hours of community service.
And so free tuition would be an incentive to perform, not a freebie for the good and bad students alike.
I don't know how the student unions would react, I assume they'd oppose free tuition with strings attached because after all, an entitlement that requires those who benefit to contribute any measure of effort is not the Quebec way.
As I did my sums, I've actually calculated that higher education with free tuition under different circumstances can actually work to the government's advantage, graduating as many students at a reduced cost.
The very real problem with higher education system is that both the schools and the students have a vested interest in keeping standards low, which remains a major problem.
It would take a brave government to fix the mess, so it is unlikely to happen, but free tuition can only be achieved through a total re-engineering of the post-secondary education system.
If you want free tuition, you need reform.
*"......a marijuana joint for about $1.25"
Readers, I hadn't the foggiest idea what a marijuana joint costs until I looked it up and found out that an ounce of marijuana (from which you can make about 28 joints) costs about $190 in Quebec, the cheapest place in North America!
The most expensive place to buy weed is in Nunavut at almost $800 an once!
There's actually an interactive website that tracks current prices in each state and province in North America. Link