This week, the Mount Allison Students’ Union released an official statement in opposition of an independent correspondence course tuition. As of the winter 2016 semester, correspondence courses will no longer be included in Mount Allison full-time student tuition. Instead, each three-credit course will cost $746.50. The New Brunswick government has imposed a tuition freeze on public universities, which is one of several initiatives intended to reduce student debt in the province.
While charging an extra sum for correspondence courses is not technically an increase in tuition, any full-time student who takes a correspondence course will be paying more per semester.
The MASU’s university ombudsperson Josh Johnson said the university could theoretically lose funding from the provincial government by charging for correspondence outside of tuition fees. Despite the tuition freeze, Mount Saint Vincent University raised tuition and there have been no consequences as of yet.
“This is not a tuition increase. It is a change in the university’s billing practice with respect to correspondence courses taken during the fall and winter terms effective Jan. 1, 2016,’’ said Karen Grant, Mount Allison provost and vice-president of academics and research.
The MASU issued a statement to The Argosy which stated, “This tuition increase creates a financial barrier for full-time students who want to take correspondence courses.” The statement also added that “this may lead to fewer students taking correspondence courses, which could give the university reasonable grounds to eliminate or further restrict correspondence course offerings.”
Johnson said the billing change will affect international students most, as they will be paying $1,400 more per correspondence course. International students’ tuition is already much higher than the tuition of Canadian students.
Mt. A’s enrolment has decreased, which has led to cuts to courses, making it difficult for some students to reach course requirements, said Johnson.
The university attempted to cancel certain correspondence courses for the current term but withdrew the decision when the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) filed grievances.
In most Canadian universities, the amount of tuition students pay depends on the number of credits taken. Mt. A is one of few to charge a fixed tuition fee for students taking three or more courses. For this reason, students pay more than $746.50 per course and it is profitable for the university to offer fewer correspondence courses. However, the MASU states that “the increase in tuition would not make the correspondence courses break even, but rather turn a profit and is designed to balance the university’s budget on the backs of students.”
According to the MASU, the university cites a net loss of $12,000 from the correspondence course program. However, Johnson said the figures used by the university to calculate the cost of the correspondence course program were misleading. Johnson said they count the full stipend, $350, of all part-time professors teaching a correspondence course under the costs of the fall/winter semester. Some of these professors teach on-campus courses or offer correspondence courses during the spring/summer semesters. For this reason, the cost of these stipends to the university should be divided by two or three depending on the situation. This is not the case; the full amount is placed as a cost to the fall/winter correspondence course program.
Dr. Geoff Martin, part-time faculty member who has taught correspondence courses at Mt. A for 17 years, said he first heard about the issue in March of this year as a proposal from Karen Grant.
Martin said the university “will not apply any full-time tuition revenue, or any portion of the government grant, towards the cost of the correspondence program in the fall and winter.
“The problem with the logic is that you could justify shuttering almost any academic unit at Mt. A because revenues come in primarily from both students and government in support of the overall university mission, which is to teach and do research and creative activity, and not particular courses or programs,” continued Martin.
The MASU’s statement said their primary goal is to “convince the administration to reverse their decision to increase and allow full-time students to take correspondence courses without additional charge.” If this is not possible, the MASU would like “correspondence tuition to be reduced to a value that would make correspondence courses revenue neutral this year.” If correspondence course tuition persists for this year, the MASU says they will continue to work the Budget Advisory Committee to eliminate fees altogether for next year.