No credit for students

By Katy Anderson

The decision to not use credit cards to pay tuition as of Jul. 1–like most other schools in Canada–has students across the otherwise notoriously apathetic campus up in arms.

Students are concerned with the lack of consultation, the timeline, the loss of benefits they receive from using their credit card (like Air Miles) as well as both the convenience and accessibility aspects of a decision that affects one out of every two students on campus. They have joined Facebook groups in the thousands, plastered signs around campus and have written over 460 e-mails, at press time, to express their discontent to University of Calgary president Dr. Harvey Weingarten.

U of C administration, however, has countered that the decision is very reasonable, even to the point of benefiting students in the form of scholarships–$500,000 to undergrads and $250,000 for graduate students–and will give students plenty of time to adjust to the change.

“[The decision] is based on the financial growth of the costs of doing business with the credit card users,” said U of C vice-president finance and services Mike McAdam. “It’s now over a million dollars a year and that money is much better used directed to student support than being paid to credit card companies.”

McAdam explained that the switch to not using credit cards wasn’t out of the blue. University administration had been considering the option since the fall of 2003, but had been waiting until the time was right and until the university had adapted to PeopleSoft before they made the change.

Carleton University manager of business operations Valerie Evans explained that the U of C’s policy was the exception to the rule. Carleton has never offered the option and, despite considering it a couple of times, have decided against it. Because banks are not able to give universities special rates, they have opted instead for the funds to go into the operating budget towards other costs, like faculty salaries.

“There are very, very few universities in Canada [who offer the option] and my understanding is they were all in B.C. and maybe one or two in Alberta,” said Evans.

Although both Evans and McAdam stressed that this was not an accessibility issue, students shared a different view. U of C student and fourth-place Calgary mayoral-race candidate Jeremy Zhao explained that the change was happening a little too fast, especially for students living paycheck-to-paycheck. Zhao’s parents have used a credit card so they could pay tuition up front, while being able to settle their bills at the end of the month.

“I know a lot of universities don’t have this option, but there are people right now who depend on using their credit card to pay their tuition,” said Zhao. “If they don’t have that option, [then] they don’t have the $5,000 in their banks to pay tuition. It’s tuition; it’s the most important thing. Parking fees or small tuition hikes don’t seem to be as important as ‘how am I going to be able to pay my tuition, to attend university, to get my degree in order to do all these things that I want to do.’”

Many students around campus, including Zhao and U of C Facebook group administrator Bryce Bravo, shared concerns over the lack of consultation with students.

“I believe the communication from the school to the students was lacking,” said Bravo. “I have had people come up to me and say, ‘I found out from your group or from you personally’ and I don’t believe that’s right.”

The decision was communicated through a one-line address on the enrollment services front page Tue., Mar. 18, a site that students getting ready for finals and then summer were not likely to check. The following Thu., articles were published in both the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun. The Students’ Union sent out an e-mail expressing their disappointment over the decision to all students Tue., Mar. 25, which was almost immediately followed by an e-mail from U of C vice-provost Dr. Alan Harrison explaining why the change was made.

U of C SU president Julie Bogle stressed that better information would have minimized students’ angst. The SU has been hearing from students who believe they won’t be able to attend university next year because of the decision. Bogle explained that there are options that allow students to pay with private credit–without using the online credit card system–however, she believes the university must communicate to students what these options are.

U of C administrators aren’t alone in their decision. Both the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta have recently stopped offering the service to students.

While the U of C SU does not believe this is an accessibility issue–pointing to the lack of proof that it affects accessibility at other institutions that have implemented the policy–U of A SU president Michael Janz believes this is absolutely an accessibility issue.

“When you’re dealing with students working out the financial means to come to post-secondary education, it’s an accessibility issue,” said Janz. “The university is saying that they’re going to get $1 million that they can put back into the classroom, but they haven’t sufficiently demonstrated that that’s where the money is going to go.”

Although U of C Graduate Students’ Association president David Coletto isn’t satisfied with the decision, he understands why it was made and asserted that the situation points to the crumbling financial state of both universities.

“While it’s fair for us to question that this decision was made, we also have to consider that this problem may not have happened if universities were funded properly in this province,” said Coletto. “There is no excuse for a province as wealthy as Alberta to have rising tuition, crumbling infrastructure and cash-starved universities.”

Dissatisfied students at the U of A have started a group called Dare to Deceive–based on the university’s guiding doctrine, Dare to Discover. The group is planning a protest at the U of A’s Board of Governors’ meeting Thu., Mar. 27.

Basil Bansal helped found the group because he believes this is an accessibility issue and there was a lack of consultation from administration. He noted the 18,000 students who use credit were promised they would receive a survey asking why they use credit to pay for tuition. Bansal believes the U of C and U of A watch each other closely and follow each other hand in hand.

“Because they are two of the most prominent and recognized institutions in Alberta, I think they feel they can get away with such a ruling and students either have to accept it or they choose to go somewhere else–and they’ll always find other students,” said Bansal.

Mount Royal College manager of financial planning and analysis Annalise Van Ham maintained that although MRC pays $550,000 annually in credit card fees–a large chunk for tuition payments–they will not be changing their policy regarding the use of credit for tuition payments any time soon.

“It’s not just about student convenience, although that is important, but it’s also about what’s the most cost-effective means of collecting the tuition [for us],” said Van Ham.

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