The board of governors at the University of King's College's in Halifax has approved a proposal that opens the door to a $1,000 tuition hike over a two-year period for its popular first-year program.
The proposal means the cost of the Foundation Year Programme could increase by $500 in 2017-2018 and by the same amount in 2018-2019, if a future board chooses. There would be no increase for the next school year. The program now costs $8,630.
The university's board of governors approved a resolution put forward by a tuition committee at a meeting Thursday.
The school says the decision doesn't mean tuition will go up, but it allows for the board to increase what it charges students if it "deemed it absolutely necessary" in the future.
"It's never good to increase tuition, but by the same token we believe we need to reserve the right for a future board to determine that for themselves based on the financial situation of the college in that day," said Adriane Abbott, the university's director of advancement.
3 per cent tuition cap
Earlier this year, the provincial budget lifted the three per cent tuition cap for colleges and universities, and created a window for schools for a one-time market adjustment to tuition.
Abbott said the school had to inform the provincial government about any potential plans for a tuition reset this fall.
"The only reason why we are discussing this now is because the government has asked us to make this decision in advance. What we're saying is a board in the future can make that decision," Abbott said.
She says it's impossible to know what the school's financial situation will be in the coming years. A task force is now examining its long-term financial situation and a senate review is looking at the relationship between Dalhousie University and King's.
But the King's Students' Union says it has no faith the school will refrain from raising fees if that option is available. It says any increase could be compounded by removing the three per cent tuition increase cap.
'Blatant cash grab'
"It's a blatant cash grab insofar as there's no support or evidence as to why they'd pursue it in the future," student union president Alex Bryant said.
He predicts even discussing hiking tuition could hurt enrolment, which is already declining.
This week the Association of Atlantic Universities released enrolment numbers for the 2015-2016 school year, which show King's has the second-highest drop in undergraduate enrolment in the province at 8.4 per cent.
The previous school year, King's lost 105 undergraduate students — a 9.3 per cent drop.
Bryant also says high tuition would alienate students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
"King's is disproportionately populated from students from wealthy backgrounds, that's something we've acknowledged in our public documents as something we want to work on," he said.
"We're not going to be able to work on that while we keep raising tuition fees. Those students won't come, they don't apply because the sticker price will be too high."