For the second year in a row, DLSU resolved not to push through with a tuition fee increase (TFI). In a Help Desk Announcement last July 30, DLSU President Br. Raymundo Suplido FSC said that they decided to overturn the earlier approved 2.5-percent increase for Academic Year (AY) 2021-2022 to recognize the financial burden students and parents face in the ongoing pandemic.
Two months prior, the Multi-Sectoral Consultative Committee on Tuition Fees (MSCCTF) voted 3-2 in favor of an increase as representatives from the DLSU administration as well as faculty and employee groups pushed for an across-the-board (ATB) salary increase, while parents and student representatives stood firmly keeping educational fees down.
While the University conceded to the request for a zero TFI, they had nevertheless kept their promise of a salary increase—a win-win for all parties involved, except perhaps for the administration. Caught in a difficult balancing act, DLSU now finds itself striving to remain financially afloat while ensuring that students, faculty, and staff are able to tide the pandemic.
‘Absorb the difference’
DLSU felt its first major hit when the K-12 program launched in 2016 as enrollment numbers in its college programs dwindled, Vice Chancellor for Academics Dr. Robert Roleda says. By the end of AY 2018-2019, they fell into a deficit and were looking at a P297-million net loss. The University, however, was poised to recover, settling on a four-percent TFI for AY 2019-2020.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Amid widespread lockdowns and difficult financial circumstances besetting many Filipinos, DLSU forewent the TFI and issued a seven-percent tuition rebate and 20-percent tuition discount during the second and third terms of AY 2019-2020, respectively. Further discounts were also rolled out in the AY that followed.
Roleda confirms to The LaSallian that these measures had compounded the University’s deficit, which Chief Finance Officer Ramon Trajano reveals has ballooned to P683 million by AY 2019-2020.
However, Roleda admits that the earlier agreed 2.5 percent is “not the ideal TFI.” “The University wants to keep the tuition fee increase as low as possible,” he maintains. He explains that if DLSU had strictly followed the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) regulations that requires 70 percent of a planned tuition increase to stem from pay raises, a 2.5-percent salary increase would have actually translated to a 3.6-percent TFI. “The University decided to absorb the difference and just match the TFI with the ATB [salary increase].”
A data-driven fight
Though the University is currently in the red, representatives from the University Student Government (USG) believe that DLSU can still rebound while in a zero-percent TFI scenario.
School of Economics Government President Zaniel Kekenusa, who co-authored the USG’s TFI proposal, explains that based on their model, which he says was similar to what was used under former USG President Lance Dela Cruz’s administration, DLSU will still be at a loss with a P200-million deficit in AY 2021-2022 but can expect a net income of P61 million by AY 2022-2023.
This is, however, under very specific conditions: enrollment rates would grow at five percent annually; salaries and benefits for faculty and non-teaching personnel would grow at four percent; inflation would push the University’s expenses up by 2.5 percent in 2021 and 2022 and by three percent in 2023; and the TFI would remain at zero percent for the next two AYs. The proponents also did not consider any other sources of income, such as miscellaneous fees.
But promising financial projections was not their only crux; they had also conducted a survey to determine the student body’s income bracket classification and held focus group discussions (FGD) to paint a clearer picture of the on-the-ground situation.
About 59.5 percent of the 839 respondents in the USG’s survey reported being part of the middle class or lower, or having a monthly family income of P84,000 or less. Meanwhile, consolidated testimonies from FGDs uncovered students who saw their parents left jobless during the pandemic or struggled to keep up with rising costs and hospital fees.
“May level of detachment ‘yung administration from…seeing ‘yung mga struggling students,” argues Calvin Almazan, USG Office of the President Chief Policy Adviser and co-author of the TFI proposal. This gap, he adds, is what led them to adopt more data-driven policies because they “would want to make them (DLSU administration) understand the students’ struggles in a language they know,” which is data.
Meanwhile, DLSU-Parents of University Students Organization President Dr. Felicitas Ducusin, who served as the presiding officer in the meetings, shares that while their sector’s decision to push for a zero-percent TFI did not rely on surveys, their officers had discussions with USG President Maegan Ragudo.
Where to go from here
Despite the hardships that all sectors are facing, Roleda is optimistic that the “rise in student enrollment” and lower tuition discounts for AY 2020-2021 will help the University recover. “We are hopeful that we will be able to return to pre K-12 enrollment levels by AY 2021-2022,” he says.
Almazan, meanwhile, relays that the USG has taken strides to help alleviate the pandemic’s financial burden on students, citing scholarship opportunities under the Office of the Executive Treasurer and lobbying efforts to remove the University’s auto-drop policy and reinstatement fee, the latter of which has already been realized.
But he acknowledges that more work needs to be done to get their message across to the administration. “There is a lot to improve on when it comes to knowing the real situation of the students from the administration itself,” he notes. “At the end of the day, what we want for them is to understand the student situation…With data-driven proposals, mas maiintindihan siya ng administration.”
The LaSallian had reached out to the Association of Faculty and Educators of DLSU Inc. (AFED) and the Employee Association (EA) for further comment on their stance in the TFI discussion. AFED has not responded for comment as of writing, while EA President Johnny Perez declined to give “courtesy [to] the other members of the MSCCTF.”
With reports from Jan Emmanuel Alonzo