Thousands of Ontario college students opt to drop out and receive a tuition refund

Thousands of Ontario college students have opted to take a tuition refund rather than completing semesters condensed by the faculty strike, though one school says it expects most students will return to class eventually.

Students given refund option after losing five weeks of class time due to faculty strike

Ontario students protested the strike in mid-November, slamming the government's slow response to the strike and the colleges for jeopardizing their school year. They had until Dec. 5 to claim a tuition refund. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Thousands of Ontario college students have opted to take a tuition refund rather than completing semesters condensed by the faculty strike.

Students had until Dec. 5 to claim a full tuition refund after they lost five weeks of class time due to a drawn-out faculty strike that ended after the province passed back-to-work legislation.

To accommodate students, colleges have extended their fall semesters by several weeks, in some cases stretching classes and exams into the new year.

Despite those accommodations, reports from several Ontario colleges reveal that thousands of students opted not to finish the semester, though many of them grappled with the decision.

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said she would reveal how many students opted to abandon their semesters in favour of a refund on Thursday, though those statistics will now be delayed. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Dropping out 'very difficult'

George Brown College student Skyler Taylor-Doherty said he intended to finish his game programming courses when classes resumed in November, but he changed his mind after receiving the updated schedule.

"Most of my instructors were just trying to carry on from where they left off before the strike began and that was just too much for me to handle," said the 29-year-old, who's been studying on a reduced course load due to a learning disability.

Taylor-Doherty said the ordeal has made him reconsider his education and career plans. He's now thinking about applying to a university or possibly returning to work in computer repair or technical support.

"It's left me with a sense of defeat," he said of his decision, which he described as "very difficult."

According to Nicola Lau, president of the Seneca Student Federation, many other students said they wanted to drop out before the refund option was announced, but most have since decided to bear down and finish the semester.

"I think that a lot of students just want to get it over with," she said, adding that those students feared dropping out would delay their plans or make it difficult to catch up later on.

Students 'stopping out,' college says

In statistics provided to CBC Toronto, Centennial College reported that 1,528 students withdrew from the college in the fall semester, about seven per cent of total enrolment.

However, the school noted that more than a thousand of the withdrawn students intend to re-register for the winter semester or next fall.

"This is an unusual semester," said Dr. Craig Stephenson, vice-president of student and community engagement. "Students are not necessarily dropping out as they did in previous fall semesters, but 'stopping out' for a limited time period only."

Seneca College also reported that 852 of its students opted to withdraw and receive a refund.

Colleges across the province revealed similar withdrawal numbers.

Some 1,890 students have withdrawn from Fanshawe College in London, Ont., and around 1,200 students are expected to withdraw from Conestoga College in Kitchener and St. Clair College in Windsor.

The province said it would release the full withdrawals numbers on Thursday afternoon, though it has since reneged on that time frame.

In addition to the full refund, Ontario also created a fund for students who experienced hardship during the five-week strike but wished to finish their semesters, with students able to apply to receive up to $500.


  • A previous version of this story stated that Centennial College's withdrawal numbers represented 11 per cent of total enrolment, which is actually the rate for domestic students only. The figure when figure is closer to seven per cent when accounting for international students too.
    Dec 08, 2017 10:22 AM ET

With files from Kate McGillivray and The Canadian Press