New Program-based Tuition Model for 2020’s New International Students

In an academic community, the best decision is an informed decision. We see this in our research efforts, where our recommendations and…

Image for Post

In an academic community, the best decision is an informed decision. We see this in our research efforts, where our recommendations and discoveries are based on confirmed evidence. We stand by this in our governance bodies, where consultation and findings drive our rules and procedures. It should be no surprise that we want to ensure that our students can make informed decisions, too — starting with their decision to attend the university.

This is one of the reasons why the University of Alberta is introducing a new program-based tuition model for international students who will be entering the U of A in Fall 2020. International students enrich our campuses by expanding the diversity of views and experiences in our classrooms — so any effort to make it easier for them to plan ahead for their time at the U of A has great value for all of us. To find out more about the upcoming change, we sat down with Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Steven Dew to chat about the new model.

What does the new tuition model look like?

It’s a program-based model, where the total tuition for the required credit components is guaranteed and paid in equal instalments. This differs from the current course-based approach, where tuition is based on which courses one is registered in for a given term. Tuition is less predictable in the old model because course loads and progress vary, as does year-over-year inflation. Under the new model, inflation is factored into the program total and course loads are averaged over the program duration, resulting in a constant and predictable tuition cost each year.

Program tuition is set at a level that at least covers the cost of delivering the program, including factoring in anticipated inflation over the time needed to complete the requirements. Starting in 2020, each incoming cohort may have a different program tuition guarantee.

Existing students and those starting prior to 2020 are largely unaffected by the new model.

How does the model offer students (undergrad and graduate) the flexibility needed to complete their degrees within a given time frame?

The question depends a bit on the program. Let’s start with the average undergraduate program. The average undergraduate program is four years, so say the tuition total for that program is, ‘x’ — we would divide ‘x’ over the four years, so they would have four equal payments to make. If they didn’t finish their program credits in four years, then we would provide a year’s grace — so they could finish their credits in an optional fifth year. There would be no additional tuition charges in that fifth year because they would have already paid for those courses through their four installments.

For graduate students, it’s a little bit different. The amount is fixed per year for those in thesis programs, and the amount that they would have to pay would depend on the number of years that they take to complete their studies, within their specified time limit.

All that being said, students would still have to pay mandatory non-instructional fees for each year of study — as well as textbook costs and residence fees — as those are not part of tuition.

Why change now?

Much of the timing stems from Bill 19, an Act to Improve Affordability and Accessibility of Post-Secondary EducationAct to Improve Affordability and Accessibility of Post-Secondary Education. Student associations, including the University of Alberta Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association took part in the government’s consultation process to develop this legislation. Through this process, they asked for a high level of predictability in international tuition costs. We heard the request and wanted to move towards this.

But, because we’ll be required to communicate the full cost of an international student’s tuition in their 2020 admission letters, we have a tight timeline to make this happen. These letters would traditionally go out in October of this year.

We realized that trying to come up with the full cost of a student’s tuition posed a challenge with our traditional course-based model. Under the course-based system we can’t know a student’s tuition until they’ve registered for courses — so at the time of their admission, we couldn’t know what their tuition costs would be. That motivated us to rethink how we can assess international student tuition for 2020.

Do other schools use a similar program-based tuition model?

It does get used in other countries, so we’ve been learning from how they’ve implemented it. But, it is an unusual model in North America. I understand that McGill recently moved to this model though, so we’re not entirely unique.

How will the new tuition model be incorporated into the new budget model?

Under the new budget model, tuition follows the student. So if you’re in a program in one faculty, but taking courses offered by a different faculty, your tuition dollars follow you wherever you actually register. The new program-based tuition model is not intended to change that in any way. In principle, it’s not a significant change; in practice it will simply mean more accounting work to track which dollars go where.

What benefits does the new model provide for students?

For students the major benefit is predictability; they’ll know down to the penny what their tuition cost will look like even before they decide to come to the University of Alberta. That will give them a high degree of accuracy to consider when making their decisions and securing their arrangements, even before they’ve accepted our offer.

What will happen to supports available to international students who might need financial assistance?

They’ll continue to be available for incoming and current international students in the form of scholarships, bursaries, and emergency financial aid. But, the money dedicated for these supports is expected to increase fairly significantly once the new model has been in place for a bit.

Currently we have a formula which says that 7.55% of the international differential (i.e. the difference between domestic and international tuition) is reserved for international student financial supports. The new model keeps the 7.55%, but instead of applying it to just the differential amount, it will be applied to the full tuition amount, creating greater opportunity to expand these supports after due consultation with students.

The new program-based tuition model will be in place for international students starting their degrees in Fall 2020. It will not apply to domestic (i.e. Canadian) students, and will not apply to current international students (unless they plan to begin a new program of study in or after Fall 2020). More information about the implementation of the program-based tuition model will continue to roll out through the summer and early Fall.