Province to tackle tuition billing, deferral fees by 2015

A new proposal from the Ministry of Colleges, Training and Universities suggests the province is looking to reduce deferral fees, regulate ancillary fees more and put a threshold on flat-fee charges.

According to the Ministry’s proposal, which has not yet been made public, changes to tuition payment and ancillary fees across Ontario could be implemented starting in 2015.

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The Ministry outlined a province-wide cap on late fees and reduction in deferral fees. Student advocates have been outspoken about deferral fees being an unnecessary penalty for students struggling financially and those who receive OSAP in two instalments.

While student groups including OUSA and CFS-Ontario acknowledged the Ministry’s work to address the issues, they continue to push for elimination of deferral fees and flat-fee tuition.

Currently at McMaster University, students opting into an OSAP “Flex Plan” are charged $35 per term in deferral fees.

Non-OSAP students unable to make a full payment by Sept. 1 are charged a one-time $35 late fee on top of monthly interest, which amounts to 14.4 per cent annually.

Spencer Graham, Vice-President (Education) of the McMaster Students Union, said deferral fees are unfair and should ideally be eliminated, not just reduced.

“We believe universities should have flexibility in their funds for students who will end up paying their tuition anyway,” Graham said.

The Ontario government also addressed ancillary fees in its proposal. According to OUSA, Ontario students pay some of the highest ancillary fees in the country. The Ministry proposed to clarify that institutions cannot charge extra fees for credential completion or graduation.

“We’re pretty happy the government is starting to talk to us more about technology,” Graham said. “A lot of programs use technology that charges students extra – if those things are made mandatory, that’s not allowed.”

Both the MSU and OUSA are recommending a 20 per cent off rebate for students who have to buy e-learning materials. Their estimate is that 20 per cent is roughly the evaluation component that should already be covered in students’ tuition.

The MSU’s “Stop, You’ve Paid Enough” campaign launched this fall encouraged students to report and take notice of “mandatory” course materials besides textbooks that they had to pay for out of pocket.

For example, software such as APLIA, CAPSIM and Mastering Chemistry should not be mandated by professors for evaluation purposes.

“To get around the Ministry’s rules, professors can make it an optional part of your grades. For organic chemistry, for example, it’s just not included in your course breakdown so you would be evaluated based on 90 per cent instead of 100,” Graham said.

“You may also have the option to have a percentage added to your final exam…But we don’t think students should have to opt out of assignments.”

Graham said he is currently following up on one student’s report of Top Hat Monocle’s interactive classroom software being mandated in a course.

While many students are required to buy iClickers, the technology does not fall with other e-learning materials that cannot be mandated, since students can still use their iClickers or sell them after they complete a course.

The Ministry’s proposal to put an 80 per cent threshold on flat fees would not apply to McMaster, which charges tuition per credit. However, nine universities in Ontario currently have flat-fee models. The University of Toronto, for example, charges students taking a 60 per cent course load the same tuition as students taking a full course load.

 

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Author: Anqi Shen

Anqi is the Sil’s first online editor and often reports on post-secondary education, campus news and Hamilton arts.