Law students will be paying extra when they return to school in September. Dalhousie University will increase tuition for the Schulich School of Law by six per cent for the 2011-12 school year. Combined with a $500 auxiliary fee approved by the law school, students could be paying up to $3,200 in additional fees.
There are 2 types of tuition increases in play: auxiliary fees and general tuition. The law school controls spending for auxiliary fees while Dalhousie controls spending of general tuition.
For the auxiliary fees, law dean Kim Brooks proposed a staggered plan of $500 next year, $800 in 2012-13, and $1,200 in 2013-14 as opposed to an immediate increase of $2,500 for current students.
Current tuition for a JD at Schulich is $11,666 (net of a $1,283 automatic bursary given to Nova Scotia students). The proposed tuition for next year is $12,666, a six-per-cent increase of $700.
If Brooks’ plan is not approved, general tuition will increase by $3,200 for 2011-12. If it is approved, tuition will only increase by $1,200.
The university’s board of governors must give approval for both auxiliary fees and general tuition. The board refused to vote for the increase in its April meeting pending consultation with law school administration. Brooks expects the vote will pass at the board’s June 21 meeting.
“Consultation with students needs to be meaningful,” says Brooks. “People need notice in order to plan out their costs for education. We were expecting a three-per-cent increase and a six-per-cent increase is unusual. I know the university is facing cuts from the Nova Scotia budget so their hands are tied.”
Ken Burt, Dalhousie’s vice president of finance, proposed the increase go into effect for the next school year. The additional $2,500 in tuition would affect incoming and current students.
“There will be no significant impact on students,” says Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University. “Tuition has been frozen for the past three years so fee adjustments are reasonable to pursue.”
Professional programs are bearing the brunt of the school-wide tuition hike. Tuition for undergraduate students will go up by three per cent. The medical program will have a 10-per-cent increase and the school of dentistry will have a 14-per-cent hike. These programs are not subject to the three-per-cent Nova Scotia cap on increased tuition.
“Professional programs are subsidized by undergraduate programs,” says Traves. “The law school costs more to run than it brings in. We want to get the right balance in funding and maintaining high quality.”
While students were consulted about auxiliary fees, there was little consultation between the law school and the university. Brooks, Burt, and Scott Lennox, president of the Dalhousie Law Student’s Society, met on April 25 after the board of governors meeting. There were no meetings with students beforehand.
“What makes students upset is the lack of consultation,” says Lennox. “We found out about this during exams. We didn’t have time to have any input.”
Students will also pay an additional $500 in auxiliary fees that will be used to improve student services. The law school has been going through a strategic planning process for the past eight months. Students, faculty, and alumni have been engaged in the process through town hall meetings and various committees.
“Our biggest issue is the lack of access to legal education,” says Lennox. “Higher fees make law school less accessible to students. There’s always going to be a high demand for the program but high tuition could restrict the number of people who apply. It also forces students down the corporate route. The university is picking the career path for us.”
The changes proposed through Dalhousie’s strategic planning process will move forward. Additional bursaries will be offered to second- and third-year students to combat increased fees.
“We’re concerned about students who can’t keep their lights on because of high tuition,” says Brooks. “We’re going to review the criteria for receiving bursaries to figure out what we need to do.”