U of T Considering Telling Its Poorer and Busier Students to FCE Off
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U of T Considering Telling Its Poorer and Busier Students to FCE Off

The University of Toronto—apparently anxious to catch up with York in how alienated, poor, and frustrated students have been made there—is weighing a proposal disastrous for the bulk of its future students, all in the name of a fast buck.
On April 6, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences—which represents the majority of the university’s swelling student population—will be voting on a proposal that, if subsequently approved by the school’s Governing Council, would charge all new U of T students, starting next year, a fixed fee for their courses, charging the equivalent of 5.0 courses (full course equivalents, or FCEs)—regardless of how many FCEs, from 3.0 to 6.0, students actually take. (A full-year undergrad course typically earns a student 1.0 credit, and a half-year course earns 0.5; full-time students are those who enrol in more than 2.5 FCEs.) In other words, students with either minimal financial means or maximal extra-curricular workloads, or both, will have to choose between being a part-time student (which would mean graduating in no fewer than eight years for undergraduates), staying in however many courses works best for them and incurring the financial burden of paying up to several thousand more dollars a year than current students do now (and taking student loans or gaining employment to cover it, thus reducing the time they could devote to school anyway), or—if they want to get their money’s worth—taking the full course load, paying the full amount, and somehow coming up with both the money and the time that it would all require.

According to the Faculty’s proposal [PDF], the average full-time U of T student is enrolled in 4.5 FCEs, and the forced change would generate “an additional $10M in base funding” and “would provide over $1.5M for student aid, and sufficient funds to hire an additional 17 faculty and 6 staff. A program fee will increase the net government grant per student.” “Effectively,” it notes, “the change will help maximize the per-student grant and tuition”…by raising the per-student tuition. Smart.
Though fixed-fee programs regardless of course load are not uncommon at other universities, and, here and there, at U of T, the proposal seems colossally out of touch with the reality of student experience at the country’s largest academic institution in the country’s most expensive city. For instance, the proposal suggests that “for students, there is a financial benefit in finishing their program in four years, as they would thereby avoiding [sic] the living costs, and lost income, from a fifth year of study.” For many current students—like me; I’m a full-time U of T Arts and Science undergrad enrolled in fewer than 5.0 FCEs, though this change won’t directly affect me if it’s made—taking more than four years at the University of Toronto is a choice made out of necessity, because of either money or workload. Many students who take more than four years do so because of, not in spite of, financial issues.
And here’s another paragraph that should blow the mind of anyone who’s been in any Canadian university in the past few decades:

It should be noted that for domestic students with financial need, tuition fees are fully covered by government and/or University student aid. The possible increase in tuition would therefore not itself create a compulsion for students to increase their course load. Both they and their more affluent peers, however, would be wiser—at least from a financial point of view—to plan their academic programs to minimize their time-to-degree in order to reduce other in-school living costs and maximize their years of employment.

Tuition fees are not, for the vast majority of domestic students with financial need, “fully covered by government and/or University student aid”—they’re covered by loans that must be repayed, with interest. Many, many students, especially the ones not so “affluent,” already “maximize their years of employment” by being employed throughout university.

And here’s another one:

Any intensification in overall course load could be imagined to have implications with respect to other non-academic or extracurricular issues, e.g. student time available for non-course activities including clubs, sports, employment, and related activities, or adversely affecting the overall student experience. The committee is not aware of any particular problems experienced by the other ten Ontario universities, or by other University of Toronto divisions, that currently have a program fee. Indeed, given our performance on measures of student engagement, one might suggest course intensification would have little to no impact or perhaps even have modest benefits.

Hahaha. Okay, U of T. Any good student with half-decent critical skills could tell you that “one might suggest” that sentences that begin with “one might suggest” and that end with wishy-washy conclusions, like assessing something as having “little to no impact or perhaps even…modest benefits,” are not particularly convincing. The next part of that paragraph, as further proof, cites the Globe‘s annual university report card, noting that “the two Ontario universities that received top scores on ‘overall student satisfaction’…Guelph and Western, charge program-based fees,” even though that’s not a causal relationship; it’s the equivalent of saying that U of T should move to Guelph, since Guelph is in Guelph, and it does swell on overall student satisfaction. Problem solved!
U of T prides itself on being a school of future leaders, and its students—especially those most involved on and off campus—pride themselves on being part of a school that challenges them, holds them in high regard, and treats them with respect and understanding. A fixed fee program would be an enormous mistake: it would discourage students with significant financial needs from attending at all, and it would discourage extracurricular activities for students who want their time at the University to include work not done explicitly in or for a classroom. Sometimes future leaders can’t take, or can’t afford, a full course load.