1,200 students in northeast drop out, costing colleges millions in tuition

The five colleges in northeastern Ontario are giving millions of dollars back to students who dropped out of this semester due to the month-long faculty strike.

First time colleges have offered a tuition refund following labour dispute

1,200 college students in northeastern Ontario have gotten a full refund on tuition due to the month-long faculty strike, costing the five colleges in the region millions. (Laurie Trudel/Radio-Canada)

The five colleges in northeastern Ontario are giving millions of dollars back to students who dropped out of this semester due to the month-long faculty strike.

About 1,200 applied before the Dec. 5 deadline to get a full refund on tuition for this semester, which was interrupted for five weeks while professors were on strike.

The province has told each of the colleges to offer the refunds and to create a fund to compensate students for strike-related expenses up to $500, which won't be doled out until April. 

Here's what's happening at each of the five colleges in our region:

Cambrian College saw 601 students take a tuition refund, compared with 130 from the same period last year. That will take $1.4 million out of the college's budget. Communications manager Dan Lessard says once the total cost of post-strike supports are tallied up at the end of the year,  it "may very well be" above the $2 million saved in professors salaries over five weeks.

"We're not anticipating any cuts to programming as a result of the cost we incur from the strike, we'll just look at absorbing within our existing operating budget," says Lessard.

College Boreal saw 223 students apply for a refund, but how many will receive the refund is yet to be determined. Senior vice-president of corporate services Danielle Talbot-Lariviere says she wishes the province had not offered a full tuition refund, prompting higher numbers to drop out than in a normal year.

"You know we have a skill shortage and we keep talking about the skill shortage and yet we encourage students to withdraw," she says.

Sault College paid back half a million dollars in tuition to 239 students who decided to get a refund offered by the provincial government because of the month-long faculty strike. (Sault College)

Sault College had 239 students drop out, about 70 more than in a normal semester, says president Ron Common. He estimates this will cost the college about half a million dollars.

"I do wish the province had approached this differently," says Common. "In essence, it offered a financial incentive for students to drop out. I would have much rather the province created incentives for students to stay in the programs and complete them."

Canadore College saw 147 students drop out, more than double the regular rate. Vice-president of enrolment management Shawn Chorney says about 60 of them have re-enrolled for the second semester. He says staff actually advised a few students to take the tuition refund.

"It's important that our students are successful not only from a delivery on what we promise to help them do is get a job, but also on an ethical standard," says Chorney. "To keep them and retain them knowing they're only going to struggle is not something Canadore believes in."

Northern College lost 140 students or about 12 per cent of the total enrolment due to the strike. President Fred Gibbons says that will drain about $700,000 out of the college's budget, which they will try to make up by holding off on purchases such as classroom technology.

Gibbons says the province had always resisted demands for tuition refunds until now.

"I think that's the fear that we now have a precedent to fall back on right? Students are becoming much more vocal and are regarding themselves as conscious consumers."

About the Author

Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury, Ont. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca


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