Free tuition is not enough

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

Unquestionably, the free tuition that the national government will extend to all students in accredited colleges and universities is a great leap forward to help poor students get higher education.

The efforts of Bacolod Congressman Greg Gasataya had borne fruit with the inclusion of Bacolod City College among the institutions of higher education that will receive national government funds to cover the tuition and miscellaneous fees of its students. He lobbied with the Commission on Higher Education to favorably consider the application of BCC without changing the status of the college.

Earlier reports said that BCC should first become a state college thus removing the control of the college from the city government, a step that could have made the school entirely independent from being tied to the political apron strings of city politicians who determine the school budget and whose faculty is evaluated by politicians and their ilk. In a word, BCC has to play ball with whoever sits in power.

Whether there is a condition about independence of the college from the politicians is not reported, but the free tuition is a step to shield the students from being considered a political base of Grupo Progreso. The low-tuition privilege had been drilled on the students’ psyche that they owe the chance to a better life to the politicians.

I also don’t know whether the financial assistance of the CHEd also carries with it independence in the selection of members of the faculty. Still, the free tuition is great and I hope that city politicians keep their hands off a purely education program.

We also cannot ignore the fact that the infrastructures and facilities of the college, and probably other benefits for the faculty are covered by the city. However, if the national government will shoulder the tuition then this grant will cover other costs by paying the college. By how much per unit depends on CHEd.

Of course, BCC had to hurdle the mountain of documentation that usually go with this privilege, a reason many other institutions have to still get the boon. It took years for BCC to comply and for this we must credit BCC’s administration and faculty for their herculean efforts.

But no matter how complete the documentation, the inclusion needed the lobbying by a congressman and in this respect Congressman Gasataya did a great job. He had been working on BCC’s inclusion in the free tuition program of the national government so silently that we learned of it only when the CHEd included BCC in its list.

Thus starting this school year (2019-2020) the national government will shoulder the tuition of BCC students, one among the 22 state colleges and universities in the country.

Gasataya is vice chairman of the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education, a position that carries a lot of clout over CHEd. His influence is bolstered by the fact that he is co-author of Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act. He knew the way to get BCC included in the list.  Has he trumpeted his being one of the proponents of this law?

Reports quoted him saying his objective “is for students to be able to enroll in BCC without their parents having to worry about paying for their tuition and miscellaneous fees. If they had already enrolled, they will be reimbursed. They will have nothing to pay on their enrolment.”

While tuition and miscellaneous fees will be paid by the government, there are other costs that many parents have to shoulder that in many cases the free tuition privilege could not be availed of. These are books, school supplies and transport. Books are very expensive. One book in science in a high school, for instance costs P1,068 and one for Pilipino goes over P800.

The prices of books in college would be higher. There are fees for the use computers, projects and a dozen other school needs. If the student lives a bit farther from the school, then the parents have to include the daily fares.

These costs beyond tuition and miscellaneous fees are deterrents even to students in the lower grades and once denied there then a free college would have no meaning except as a dream.

Nevertheless, I hope this step will encourage the city government to shift its savings to other needs.