Nickel-and-diming the student body

Two students launched a $200-million class-action lawsuit earlier this month against Ontario colleges, arguing that illegal fees that violate the tuition freeze are being charged. And with the long list of extra fees colleges and universities nickel-and-dime students with, it’s easy to understand the motivation behind the suit.

Take Hamilton’s Mohawk College: journalism students are forced to "rent-to-own" a laptop for more than it would cost to buy a new one at the local electronics store — even if they already own one. But at least Mohawk’s students are getting something concrete for their $1,700 per year. Brock University has just started to charge a flat rate for full-time classes, which means that students taking four classes pay for five. The University of Toronto charges a fee for "transferring" when taking courses at different campuses.

Perhaps the most outrageous charges are the ones that hit students who make use of provincial student loans. Many colleges and universities require students to pay yearly tuition and residence costs up front in September, even though they receive their loans in two instalments. At McMaster University, students who can’t pay all at once get dinged with a $35 deferral fee plus interest. Those who need to pay for residence on an instalment plan that matches their student loan instalments pay $600 more for their room. At the University of Toronto’s St Michael’s College, interest on residence fees not paid in advance is 19 per cent. Students would be better off putting it on their credit card.

University presidents blame a lack of government funding for these fees. But the shortage certainly hasn’t affected their own paycheques, as remuneration for those heading Canada’s institutions of higher learning has increased dramatically. Over the past 10 years, for example, McMaster University president Peter George’s salary has more than doubled — to $422,945.04. Cry poor, indeed.