In an earlier post I cited a Stats Can paper titled "Too far to go on? Distance to school and university participation". From the abstract:
"This study assesses the role of geographic distance to school in the probability of attending university shortly after high school graduation. Students who grow up near a university can save on costs by staying home to attend the local university, and thus may be more likely to attend. [....] After controlling for family income, parental education, and other factors associated with university participation, students living “out-of-commuting distance” are far less likely to attend than students living “within commuting distance” are."The study finds that high school grads who live more than 40 km from a university are only 60% as likely to attend university as someone who lives closer. Distance seems to be especially important for low income families: a low income student is three times more likely to attend university if she lives near a university than if she lives more than 80 km away.
When the study was done in 1996, 67% of Canadians lived within 40 km of a university, compared to only 43% of NLers. If distance was the only factor affecting participation in university, then we would expect NLers to attend at only 87% the rate of most Canadians.
Now suppose we want to lift accessibility in NL to the Canadian average. One way would be to establish new university campuses. Unfortunately, there is no obvious place to put them. There are already MUN campuses in St. John's and in Corner Brook. The next most reasonable population centres are probably Bay Roberts or Grand Falls, but they are both too small to justify the investment.
An alternative is to offer low tuition at the existing campuses. How low? Studies I cited here estimate that lowering tuition by $1000 will increase enrollment by 3%. Thus to compensate for distance, we would need to set tuition about $1000 x (100% - 87%)/ 3% = $4333 dollars per year cheaper than the Canadian average. This is very close to the current difference between tuition in NL and tuition in Ontario. Food for thought.