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Bankruptcy threatens private colleges, universities

Philippines Universities

For private high schools, colleges and universities, survival is the name of the game when the roll-out of the K to 12 (kindergarten to Grade 12) reforms is completed. The mainstreaming of Grades 11 and 12 come 2016 has schools planning ahead to expand to senior high school while at the same time bracing up for the worst.

“Private schools support the K to 12 because we need it. But the transition can be dangerous if it’s not done properly. There are basic survival issues,” said Dr. Jose Paulo Campos, chairman of the Coordinating Council for Private Educational Associations (Cocopea), one of the country’s largest umbrella organizations of private schools.

Cocopea, which represents more than 2,000 private schools and five educational associations, has supported the K to 12 agenda of the Department of Education (DepEd) to “raise the overall  quality” of the basic education system.

But with the reform, many private colleges and universities schools face bankruptcy because of disruptions in enrollment, said Campos, president of the Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) in Manila.

Although President Aquino signed the law mandating K to 12, many policy issues remained to be threshed out.

“We are at a crossroads where there has to be a policy decision and it should be done at the soonest possible time,” Campos said.

Since high school students will remain in senior high school for two more years, from 2016 to 2017, there will be no college freshmen enrollees during these years.

The enrollment gap will continue to 2018 and 2019 since there will still be no new enrollees for the third-year and fourth-year level, affecting graduate courses, like medicine and law.

“Private school funding is dependent on student fees. What will private schools do when there are no students?” Campos said.

Cocopea executive director Joseph Noel Estrada said while private schools had no choice but to expand to senior high school, they were also concerned about their viability.

“Their concern is, students might go to government schools instead. That is the biggest concern, how private schools will survive,” he said.

Estrada said the enrollment in private colleges and universities had been falling every year due to the high cost of tertiary education. Education Secretary Armin Luistro has expressed hopes that private schools will be able to absorb up to 40 percent of the more than 2 million senior high school students.

Luistro has also said that subsidizing students in private schools would be less costly for the government than building more classrooms, procuring more books and hiring more teachers.

Campos said the situation was “a little more complicated” than that, pointing out for one that college faculty were paid higher than high school teachers.

Republic Act No. 10533, the Enhanced Basic Education law referred to as the K to 12 allows the DepEd and private high schools to hire teachers of general education (GE) subjects in college and instructors in technical-vocational schools to teach in senior high school.

“Who will absorb the (pay) differential? What if there’s not enough income? These are sensitive and important matters,” Campos said.

Estrada said the implementing rules and regulations of the K to 12 law had to spell out a separation policy for the college faculty who would ultimately be displaced.

Campos also called for a “more comprehensive analysis” of the education service contracting (ESC) scheme where the government subsidizes students in private schools since they cannot be accommodated in public schools.

Key is subsidy

The annual subsidy is currently P10,000 for every student in a school in Metro Manila, and P6,500 in a school outside Metro Manila. The DepEd says the average cost of keeping a student in a public school is about P14,000 a year.

Campos said private high school tuition costs between P20,000 to P25,000 a year.

“To be effective, we should bring it closer,” said Campos, who also argued for a voucher system that allows students flexibility to choose their school. “The key here is the subsidy,” he said.

The DepEd currently subsidizes the tuition of about 700,000 students in private high schools under the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (Gastpe).

Cocopea officials stressed that the government could not afford to allow private schools to shut down.

“There will be many schools that will close, many that will not survive. But we need the private educational sector because the public school system cannot handle it all. They cannot absorb all the students,” Estrada said.

“There are small private high schools that cannot afford to expand (to senior high school) in terms of faculty, (besides) there is no assurance that students will enroll in their school,” he added.

Estrada said schools were aware that some of their students might stop at Grade 10 (fourth-year high school), and either transfer to a public high school or totally drop out.

With a constitutional mandate for free basic education, public schools dominate the system. There are some 36,000 public elementary schools against 6,000 private elementary schools, and some 7,000 public high schools against some 1,000 private high schools.

Prospects of bankruptcy

The situation is reversed in tertiary education. Of the 1,683 higher education institutions (HEIs), 643 are public, including 110 state universities and colleges (SUCs), their satellite campuses and local universities and colleges.

Despite having more private HEIs however, the student distribution is not so skewed toward private colleges and universities. Of the 3.03 million college students in school year 2011-2012, private colleges and universities had 57 percent, or 1.71 million students.

In Metro Manila, 70 percent of the 729,950 college students, or 509,132, were in private HEIs.

“It could be that many private schools will go bankrupt. Will the government be able to fill in and provide for all the needs and expand the public school system?” Campos said.

“At the end of the day the government has to decide whether private schools are their partners in education or just a group that’s just there when needed but not really appreciated,” he said.

Campos said most private schools were barely getting by, “except those at the very top that cater to a segment of society who are willing to pay.”

“But there are more students who are not financially capable. In our school alone we have a lot of promissory notes. They think schools earn a lot. It might be true for a minority, for the very top. But majority of the higher education institutions are hardly getting by,” he said.

Curriculum reform

At the other end is the college curriculum reform. The Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) has issued the new general education curriculum that did away with duplicating subjects that will already be taken up in senior high school.

The CHEd had revised the GE orientation from being mere “remedial or introductory courses” to subjects meant for higher competencies since senior high school graduates who will pursue college are expected to have acquired basic competencies and skills.

It has cut in half the number of GE subjects so that these would only be taken up in two semesters (or a year) instead of the current four semesters (or two years). A shortened GE curriculum is expected to cut most college courses, which are usually taken for four years.

CHEd Chairperson Patricia Licuanan said technical panels had been per discipline to set their respective curriculum. She said the panels should finalize the revised curriculum by October this year.

Before the implementation of the new curriculum, the commission said the GE faculty should undergo orientation “to orient them toward the philosophy of liberal education away from the disciplinal and remedial thrust of current GE courses (and) enable them to teach the core courses using new material and new material.”

Estrada said reducing the length of the course programs would be like a “double whammy” for colleges and universities facing decreased enrollment.

“We will look at the program. If that’s how it is, we can’t do anything about it,” he said.

Campos said private HEIs would put up senior high schools and choose the tracks according to their current programs and faculty training.

The DepEd’s prescribed senior high school curriculum offers academic, technical-vocational, entrepreneurial and sports and arts tracks. This allowed for more class hours for electives for senior high school students who will pursue the technical-vocational, entrepreneurial, and sports and arts tracks than for those in the regular academic tracks.

Core subjects

Five core subjects were prescribed for Grade 11: English, Filipino (Language), Mathematics, Life/Physical Sciences (Natural Science) and Contemporary Issues (Social Sciences), regardless of the students’ track.

The core subjects for Grade 12 are 21st century Philippine Literature, 21st century World Literature (Literature), Media and Information Literacy (Communication), and Philosophy of the Human Person (Philosophy).

Schools may provide their respective electives or specialized subjects so long as the students complete the required number of hours of instruction.

Those in the academic track who will likely pursue higher education are further subdivided into three categories: humanities, education and social sciences; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and those pursuing business, accountancy and management.

Students who are pursuing nonacademic tracks will devote the entire second semester of Grade 12 to electives according to their respective track. Campos said Emilio Aguinaldo College would pursue the science academics track. The proposed curriculum has not yet been circulated.

“Our plan is to offer senior high school because that seems to be the lifesaver. If we do not offer that, what will our faculty do? And if our competitor schools offer senior high school, the students might go there and stay there for college,” he said.

The implementing rules and regulations for the K to 12 law will come out in September, along with the final prescribed curriculum for senior high school, according to Estrada who sits in the technical panels.

“We need to come out with the policy as soon as possible,” he said.

Campos said the K to 12 reform required close coordination not only between the government and private education sector but other sectors of society as well.

“Because of the complexity and size of the problem, we should not be idealistic that everything will go smoothly. It won’t be a trouble-free transition. But the attitude should be that if there is a problem, deal with them, work together and fix it,” he said.

“Doing the blame game is unproductive. We should rather be focusing on how to fix the problem,” Campos said.

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