For the last few months, Councilor Jeffrey Ganzon has been quite vocal in pushing for the establishment of a city college in Iloilo City. Councilor Jeffrey is the son of the legendary Senator Rodolfo Ganzon (the "Stormy Petrel of the South") who authored the "Free Education Act" during his time so I understand his desire not only to help the poor but also live up to his illustrious father's name. Councilor Ganzon's proposal has been furiously debated in the City Council and even Mayor Jerry Treñas was drawn into the fray. Thankfully, Councilor Ganzon's idea was shot down by his own colleagues. The reason: lack of funds (read here).
It was good that the Iloilo City government did not have the funds. because if they did, chances are they would have approved Ganzon's proposal. After all, the city college idea is a crowd-pleaser and enjoys the support of the people. The oft-cited reason is the need to provide our less-privileged youth access to free and/or affordable tertiary education. No one ever disagrees with that.
But Iloilo City doesn't really need a city college. There are already so many schools to choose from in the city. Some colleges are even quite good, like the University of the Philippines, University of San Agustin, St. Paul's College and West Visayas State University. Aside from tertiary institutions , there are also a number of TESDA-accredited technical-vocational schools in the city. And even if a student managed to get kicked out in all the schools in Iloilo City, he can always go to Bacolod City which is only about 45 minutes ferry ride away and where a lot of good quality schools can also be found. So access to schools is not really a problem in Iloilo City.
There is actually a much better way to provide access to poor students than by establishing a city college. And that is thru the "voucher system." I suggest Councilor Ganzon and the rest of the Iloilo City Council read Republic Act no. 6728 or the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (GASTPE) Act and consider implementing it in Iloilo City.
The GASTPE voucher system is actually very simple and quite ingenious. The way the system works is like this: government pays private schools to take in economically-disadvantaged students. For example, instead of allocating P15 million for the construction of a city college the City Council decides instead to earmark that money for a GASTPE fund. If they decide to split the money among them as their "pork barrel," each councilor would roughly have P1 million in "scholarship money." The councilor would then choose poor but deserving students from among their constituencies.
The beauty of the voucher system is that it allows a student to choose the college of his or her choice. No one will be forced to go to some lame-ass, government-run city college whom no one has ever heard of. If a scholar of Councilor Baronda for example prefers to take up nursing at St. Paul's College or a constituent of Councilor Espinosa decides he wants to take up marine engineering at UI, they can do so. Councilor Zulueta could even decide to send an especially promising youngster to Ateneo de Manila University. All their scholars have to do is present their tuition voucher slip at the start of every semester to their patron-councilor and City Hall will be the one to pay for their tuition.
The voucher system is also an ingenious way of de-clogging our already crowded public schools. Today, the average classroom size in public schools is 60 while in most private schools it is barely 30 students. Government can allocate millions of pesos annually to construct new classrooms, buy more textbooks and hire new teachers but the simple fact is that we are producing babies faster than we can build schools. Two (2) million people are added to the population every year and our government will never be able to cope with the backlog. The easiest and most efficient way to solve the overcrowding problem is by channeling government funds (which would otherwise be used to contruct new schoolbuildings, more textbooks and more teachers) to the private sector. They are doing a better job at educating our children anyway. I am sure the voucher system will also minimize the corruption which has seemingly been plaguing our government procurement system. With more students now in the private schools, owners will have to build more classrooms and hire more teachers to cope with increased enrollment using the money they got from government. I say let the private schools build the schoolbuildings and procure the textbooks instead of government. At least we can be sure that private school owners will not steal from their own pockets.
Establishing a city college would also be like "reinventing the wheel." Ask any high school graduate to choose between studying in the "Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Iloilo" or the University of San Agustin and chances are he will choose the latter. That's because a USA diploma is more prestigious than a diploma from some crummy city college. A new city college would have to establish its academic bona fides and it takes a lot of money to maintain a certain academic standard. As such, only very rich LGUs like Manila, Makati, Pasig and Quezon City can really afford to maintain a city college. Makati has even managed to make its city college very high standard - most of its graduates are assured of getting a job in Makati after graduation - but that is because it has the financial wherewithal and the full backing of the sitting mayor. Sadly, Iloilo City is not that rich (yet) and it doesn't even have a decent City Hall at the moment . There are far more urgent things that the City Council needs to focus its attention on before its can even start contemplating operating its own college. And even if it had the money, the funds would be put to better use thru a GASTPE-type scholarship program than by creating a city college.