By: Tony Davis
Hannah Frizzell started attending UPEI in 2015 to obtain her bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology.
She attended classes on campus in all her previous years, but this September just as school was kicking off, she gave birth to her first child.
“Most people take the full year off for maternity leave, but I’ve worked incredibly hard to get to the point of where I am at and believe it is important as a role model to my son that I obtain my degree and professional career,” Frizzell said.
Now that she is an online student, Frizzell has noticed some fees on her student account that she isn’t sure is getting a good bang for her buck.
Some of those fees include a transit, library and fitness fee she never uses, Frizzel said.
“In addition to my regular tuition and book costs, for someone who has never stepped foot on campus this year and is required to pay an additional e-learning fee, I believe these costs are outrageous.”
Each online course taken at UPEI has a mandatory e-learning fee of $75. Frizzell’s e-learning fee per semester is $225, she said she pays about $400 annually in fees she feels shouldn’t apply to online students.
In an email statement, UPEI officials addressed several fees. They said the library resource fee supports the work of the Robertson Library, which can be accessed in person or online. UPEI also highlighted how the E-learning fee works.
“The E-learning fee helps fund UPEI’s E-Learning Office (ELO), which supports instructors in the design, development and delivery of blended, hybrid and online teaching at UPEI. The ELO provides pedagogical and technical support through its E-Learning instructional designers, as well as support and consulting for development of multimedia resources through the instructional multimedia specialist.”
The university added, tuition and fees remain among the least expensive in the region, according to data collected from the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission. In order to maintain programs and services that benefit UPEI students universally, the University and the UPEI Student Union collect fees.
Frizzell recognizes some fees may be good for students attending class and living on campus such as the $60 annual transit fee, but these fees don’t help online students, she said.
“We pay $133 each year for gym access, yet a lot of students never use this facility. These recurring fees is money we are basically throwing away and incurring in debt in years to come.”
Frizzell reached out to the Student Union for help and they were sympathetic, but they couldn’t do anything to argue the fees and Frizzell said she feels the interests of online students paying for courses at the university aren’t adequately represented.
UPEISU president Will McGuigan has been working with advocacy groups, but agrees there is more they could be doing.
“It’s something I have been thinking about and I’m not sure how to go about that.”
As a student on campus he sees the importance of student fees, but sympathizes with some UPEI students studying online from other countries. McGuigan added that Islanders who study online do have the option to take advantage of services.
“The fact they aren’t using it and they are from Prince Edward Island, I don’t really have a lot of sympathy for them, but if you are a student studying from China, I definitely see where they are coming from.”
McGuigan compares student fees to taxes. Some people may not use a service, but the money accumulated goes toward providing that service for the people who need it most, he said.
“It’s kind of like the Canadian democracy, even though we don’t use something we all pay for it and we subsidize amongst everybody. I use the transit, none of my friends use it, but a lot of my friends actually use the gym, I never step foot in the gym.”
Allowing people to opt out could create a slippery slope, he said.
“If we allow students to opt out of the transit pass- say you lose a few students this year, next year you lose a few more…”
If enough students opt out of a fee, that fee will then have to increase for other students, he said.
“If you start letting a few out, it just builds where at some point, one may make the argument, ‘would we even have a transit pass at the end?’”