Who benefits from "paying it forward"?

Scott Hastie
January 24, 2017
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

It is old hat by now: the value of post-secondary education has drastically changed since 2000. So why do some talking points remain?

I have heard and read people arguing in favour of the Pulse expansion and new student activity building by saying that the student centre and athletic centre were paid for my students who would not use it. Now, some say, it is our turn to pay it forward.

To clarify, this expansion project would not immediately ask students to start paying the full fee, but there would be a $95 increase next year if option A or B passed.

This logic is dripping with privilege and needs to be reconsidered. I can appreciate that people ahead of me have helped pay for the office that I currently write this piece from, but that was a different time. The cost of education was not as high as it is now and the job prospects were significantly better.

Students leave university with more debt and accept jobs with less security now. An increasing number of students have issues with food security. The list of issues goes on and on.

It does not make any sense to ask students to pave the way for future generations of students when we are leaving current students behind. Why are we so concerned with building a new activity building when we have students who cannot afford food?

And let’s consider whom we would actually be helping. If post-secondary costs continue to increase, post-secondary education will price out more and more students because they cannot afford to attend university. Assuming that rising costs would dissuade students from lower-income backgrounds, this student activity centre and new recreation centre would be for those who come from privileged backgrounds that can afford to attend university. What I am saying is: are we building something on the backs of students who can barely afford university, pricing out low income people, and then wealthy students will be the only people who afford university and use these facilities?

And yes, I know the Ontario government changed their policy to give “free tuition” to students from lower-income families. In fairness, it is not actually free tuition; they are providing grants for about $8,700 towards tuition. That is good, but still not enough to cover some programs at McMaster, and does not address living expenses.

We need to consider what it means to “pay it forward” because not everyone can afford to collect that payment down the line. Some cannot even afford to pay it now. Until – or if – university educations are affordable for all, we should be cautious when raising costs.


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