Tuition Increase and Rationality

[For Pakighinabi, Manila Times, June 1, 2014]

Often, the perceived rational is irrational.

In the Philippines we have two types of schools, public schools and private schools. There is a need to understand the advantages of each, and how they work differently.

Public schools are run by the state; they are funded by the taxpayer.   Private schools are run by private persons. Whether they are for profit or non-stock, non profit, they are social enterprises. They exist, as the public school does, for the common weal. But the private school is funded by private money. They run on a covenant between themselves and their clients, that is, their students, or, in most cases, their students’ parents.

In the Philippines, public elementary schools are free and mandatory. Public junior and senior high school are free, but not mandatory. State universities and colleges are generally free, but recently, despite their state funding, they have begun charging tuition and fees.

Private schools are not free, because without tuition and fees they would not run. No one is constrained to go to a private school. Those who do, however, agree to the terms and conditions of going to that school. Clients of private schools go to them because of perceived advantages of the school they choose.   They judge that to go to a particular school is more advantageous than going to a public school or more advantageous than going to another private school. For this advantage, they pay. The critical advantage of a particular private school over others is often related to the amount of tuition one pays, but not necessarily so. The quality of a school is not merely a function of its tuition, but of its actual teachers, administrators, facilities, learning environment and learning outcomes.

Private schools do not have to exist. It would be a salutary exercise to consider a Philippines where all education is public. Remove not only the Dominican schools, the La Sallian schools, the Ateneos, the RVM schools, but also Emilio Aguinaldo College, Silliman University, the University of Mindanao, Brokenshire College, Far Eastern University, the University of the East, Mapua Institute of Technology, STI, and the like. Instead, have only public schools. After all, the primary responsibility of providing education for all belongs to the State.

The public school, run on taxpayers money, is perceived in the Philippines to be inferior to private schools. But that is often a mistaken perception. The University of the Philippines is the premier school of the Philippines; Bikol State University is an excellent school. So too, the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology. Public schools are not static. Like private schools, they improve over time if they are provided with the proper governance and means.

To improve in teacher quality, classroom, library, laboratory, sports facilities, and learning outcomes, the public school lobbies for larger chunks of taxpayers’ money; success depends on the ability of the President to prove the quality of the school’s operations and win the support of the public officials who hold the power of the public purse, the national or local legislators. There are no limits to how much may be requested, except what the legislators judge the state can afford. To provide parallel improvements, the private schools must raise tuition and fees. The limits on how much these can be raised depends primarily on the willingness of the schools’ clients to agree to the conditions that bring about the special advantage desired in the school. When the school and its clients agree on an extraordinary advantage despite its extraordinary cost, nothing in a free-enterprise state should prevent this agreement. For Philippine education, these extraordinary advantages may take the shape of unusual excellence and innovativeness in educational delivery.

Schools in the Philippines should be supported in their quest to deliver the excellence that is particularly theirs. The public school must be respected in its mandate to provide access of broad numbers of Philippine citizens the best education possible. They must find their excellence under these taxpayer-supported conditions.   The private schools must be similarly respected in their quest to provide excellence to their students; they must be allowed to agree with their clients on the defining advantages of their schools, that must be paid for by agreed-upon tuition and fees.   As there should be no law hindering a public school from seeking the budget necessary to substantially improve itself, there should be no law or regulation which hinders a private school from agreeing with its clients on the excellence of educational delivery they aspire to and pay for.

Quality education costs money. Someone must pay for it. Good professors with outstanding credentials must be paid well, but so too lab technicians, librarians and janitors. It is illusory to think public schools are cheap and private schools expensive. All schools cost money. If we want an all-public-school nation, let’s give up the private schools, and pour our resources into an excellent public school system. Pay all teachers the same salaries; give all students the same courses, subject all to the same uniform standards. But if we eschew this because of the tremendous costs this entails in public money, fear of over-homogenization of education, fear of bureaucratic corruption, or fear of falling outputs due to lack of healthy competition, let private schools continue to exist. But do not deprive the private schools their excellence, their innovativeness, their special advantages, which they pursue anyway with their own means. Here, let us find the complementariness between the public and private schools envisioned by the Constitution.

The “rational cap” to increasing tuition is irrational – especially if it is pegged on something like the inflation rate, which is purely arbitrary relative to the increasing costs of a school. Similarly irrational are warrants for increases based only on achieved quality, for how can other schools improve in quality if they are not allowed funds for improvement? Such a policy would only exacerbate the quality gap among schools. Education costs. The only way of stopping increasing tuition is to go all public and make all education “free”, that is, charge all education to the taxpayer. But, honestly, how rational is that?


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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