HIGHER education in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) has remained elusive as rising tuition and other school fees further push the youth out of college.

The National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) with Kabataan Partylist Cordillera disclosed observable trends in enrollment and tuition schedules reveal enrollment decreases as the cost of education increases.

The study shows a 10 percent increase in total fees for next year may reduce the enrollment in the three biggest higher educational institutions (HEI) in the region by as much as 51.3 percent.

“College education remains a privilege as long as outrageous increases in tuition and other school fees are allowed by the State,” NUSP Baguio-Benguet spokesperson Bazoo De Jesus said.

Kabataan Partylist Cordillera added doubling these fees may force 92 percent of the total enrollees of these universities to drop out of schooling or to transfer to other universities.

NUSP also claimed one out of five current students of the different universities will stop schooling even without any increases next year.

“Along with the historical lack of prioritization over the region’s state universities and colleges (SUCs), the cost of higher education – whether private or public – forces the youth out of school,” De Jesus added.

De Jesus cited the data of the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) showing the number of first year students in the region reaching to 43,326 in 2014 slid down to 29,653 when they entered second year in 2015.

“The disastrous dropout rate among college students proves how unaffordable education is, and it would be even higher if the costs rise,” De Jesus contended.

Private universities in Baguio City, the so-called education center of the North, showed the highest decrease in enrollees.

“Around three-fourths of college students in CAR are enrolled in private colleges, exposing them to non top tuition fee hikes, absurd miscellaneous fees, and other neoliberal policies,” De Jesus said.

Data from academic year 2015–2016 shows out of 114,398 enrollees in the region, 76,290 students were enrolled in private HEIs with more than 80 percent of these studying in Baguio City.

NUSP also decried the incapacity of the government, especially CHED, to provide quality and accessible education to the Filipino youth.

“For decades, students all over the country have been affected by the increasingly private, market-oriented, and colonial character of SUCs,” De Jesus said.

De Jesus noted while tuition fees in public colleges are lower, students still bear the brunt of dubious, exorbitant, and redundant miscellaneous fees.

“Taking a look at the situation of college students, we believe the free-tuition policy in the 2017 budget is just one small step towards the attainment of free and quality education at all levels,” the NUSP spokesperson said.

Together with other progressive groups and organizations, NUSP Baguio-Benguet calls on the administration to ensure the swift and blanket implementation of the recently ratified free-tuition policy.

Likewise, the groups are currently lobbying for the passage of House Bill 4800, or the Comprehensive Free Public Higher Education Act of 2017, filed by Kabataan Partylist on January 23.