Friday, July 4

On UP's new tuition system

My favorite #BracketAKaNa tweet by far

Quezon Hall has released statistics regarding the Socialized Tuition System, which was used for the first time this year. (The STS, by the way, is responsible for the #BracketAKaNa tweets on your timeline this week.) I thought it was worth dissecting the report.

First of all, a quick summary: UP has had a socialized tuition system since the 1980s. The richer you are, the more you pay. Until this year, the system was called the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program. The STFAP was the perennial object of complaints: The process was cumbersome, the application form was 14 pages long, and results were often appealed. The STS, on the other hand, is done entirely online. Instead of pages of forms detailing the financial situation of a student’s household, it uses an instrument developed with the help of the Marketing and Opinion Research Society of the Philippines. This instrument includes a series of questions designed to measure an individual’s financial capacity, such as the kind of toilets and the number of phones a household has.

The results are in, and the UP administration sounds triumphant: “More Students Now Benefit from UP’s Socialized Tuition System (STS),” the headline of their news release announces. According to UP, 90% of undergraduate students have applied for tuition discounts under the STS, compared to 40% in the last year the STFAP was in place.

STS Director Richard Gonzalo said this is because the STS is “accessible, fast and efficient,” with wait times cut from 12 months to two weeks. I’m inclined to attribute it to the fact that students were widely encouraged to apply. In fact, some were under the impression that an STS application was a requisite to enrollment. (I cannot find any official announcement to that effect.) I know the only reason I bothered with the STS application process is that I really didn’t have anything better to do at home.

Here’s the bigger news, though: UP said that under the STS, only 48% of applicants were assigned to the two highest income brackets,  compared to 69% before the new program was implemented. Evidently, the administration is proud of the fact that fewer students are considered “rich” under the new system.

Good news, huh? Let’s take a trip back to the first semester of Academic Year 2011-2012. Before then, one could opt not to apply for the STFAP and be automatically classified under Bracket B. The university assumed that your family was earning less than P1 million a year (but more than P500,000). That was the assumption, even if it was not necessarily the case.

Then, in 2011, Quezon Hall required students to submit a document certifying that their household income fell below P1 million. Otherwise, they were assumed to be in the “millionaire’s bracket” and asked to pay the highest tuition rate. According to the Philippine Collegian, before 2011, UP Diliman had 29 Bracket A students. After the Bracket B certification rule kicked in, it had 2,413.

KulĂȘ quotes UP Vice President for Public Affairs Prospero De Vera III as saying that the certification rule’s intention was “to improve the implementation of the STFAP and implement it the way it was designed [to] socialize tuition rates.” UP President Alfredo Pascual was also quoted as saying, “Hindi naman STFAP ang nagpaparami ng Bracket A students. Mas marami lang talagang mayaman na nakakapasok sa UP.

So, to recap. Our administrators believe that UP has many rich students. They feel that the spike in the number of upper-bracket students is an “improvement” in the way the system works, and that with more students in the upper brackets, the tuition system more realistically reflects the makeup of UP’s student body.

In light of this, what do the STS statistics mean? If the new system placed fewer students in the upper brackets, does that make its accuracy questionable? Or, conversely, are we to assume that there has been a sudden exodus of “rich” UP students over the summer break? (Perhaps we can blame #Laboracay.)

This is bothersome because, as people have pointed out on Facebook, and as is obvious to anyone who was asked by the STS form whether they shat over an open hole in the ground, the questionnaire is surprisingly easy to lie to. The STFAP problem of Bracket A students “hiding” behind loopholes could be rearing its ugly head again. Of course, as part of the application, students had to swear (digitally) that they were telling the truth, and were informed that their answers could be subjected to verification, so there’s that.

But then again, maybe we’re wrong. Maybe the STS did reveal the true face of UP’s student community. Maybe, in light of the pie chart in the STS report, President Pascual will have to say he was wrong when he said that more and more rich students are coming to UP. Baka po mali lang talaga yung STFAP, Mr. President, noh?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know for sure based on the statistics in the report. I, for one, would like to see in more detail how students “jumped” between brackets. We can’t tell for sure how many of the nearly 5,000 students who moved down to Brackets C-E2 used to be Bracket A students, how many used to be in Bracket B, and so forth.

Then there’s the question of how many students who used to be in Bracket D or E now find themselves in Bracket C because the family has a sala set and one mobile phone for each member.

One last note: this news release seems a little premature to me. We still don’t know how many students have appealed to be reassigned to another bracket, and how many of these appeals will be accepted. I think this is an important metric that’s going to be a major indicator of the success of the revamped tuition system. Let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched.

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