UPDATED: Examining U of T’s Response to Concerns About Interest Charges

Update:

After talking with Mr. Levin, it seems that he is, in fact correct that OSAP covers some of the cost of interest charges for U of T students.  Automatically included in the OSAP need assessment is an amount to cover two months interest, based on an average across students, which is about $75.  Because this is included in the OSAP system, this amount, along with all other costs will be covered more by grants than loans depending on how needy a student is.  This amount is similarly included in the UTAPS assessment, as UTAPS uses the same assessment as OSAP, for the most part.

In summary through the OSAP/UTAPS system, OSAP and U of T partially cover the costs of two months interest for all OSAP students.  Since the amount is based on an average, it may not fully cover the cost for all students, and since OSAP is a loan/grant mix, only some of that coverage is non-repayable, depending on your situation.

On Newstalk1010, U of T’s Richard Levin claimed that November to January interest is covered for all OSAP students. An examination of this statement reveals major inaccuracies.

Yesterday, I made an appearance on “The Live Drive with John Tory” on Newstalk 1010 to discuss the almost 1.8 Million in interest that U of T charged to Full-Time St. George Undergrad Students on overdue tuition payments.  The story had also been covered that day on the front page of the Toronto Star.  Richard Levin, Executive Director of Enrollment Services, and University Registrar at U of T, appeared on the show to convey the University of Toronto’s response.

While on the show, Mr. Levin said (emphasis mine):

“So what we do for all OSAP recipients is we include the service charge for the two months between November… we pay the two months service charge, we put it in the OSAP assessment, it’s covered from November to January.”

He later elaborated further:

John Tory: “Now, when you say covered, you mean you don’t charge them interest, or…”
Richard Levin: “We mean, I mean, it’s in the money they receive from OSAP.”

Mr. Levin appears to be claiming that all OSAP students receive, an amount that is meant to cover the two months interest that U of T charges to them while they wait for their January installment to arrive.  As I will explain, this is incorrect: only 30% of students on OSAP receive funds to cover those two months, and they receive the funding through a program called UTAPS, and not through OSAP directly.

By the way, the important part of this post comes later.  If you find dry facts boring, skip to the heading titled “Summary.”

Based on what Mr. Levin himself has told me before, I believe that he means that U of T pays the two months interest for those OSAP students who are also UTAPS recipients.  I mentioned this in my original blog post about the interest charges. In an email from the 29th of August, Mr. Levin stated that:

“Students qualify for UTAPS if they receive the maximum amount of government-funded student aid available and still have unmet need. The UTAPS need assessment considers a student’s education costs (i.e., tuition and incidental fees, books and supply, living costs, transportation, and child care), as well as two months of accrued interest (i.e., for November 15-January 15) in the determination of need.  The first of the UTAPS grants is paid before the November 15 service charge date.

According to U of T Facts and Figures, for 2011-2012, only 4,056 of the 13,554 OSAP recipients covered by the FOI request also received UTAPS funding.  That is just 30% of OSAP students.  A minority of OSAP students are receiving payment for two months of interest, because only a minority of OSAP students are receiving the UTAPS additional aid.

However, what Mr. Levin actually said on the radio was that the cost of two months interest was “in the money they receive from OSAP,” because “we [U of T] put it in the OSAP assessment.”  However, the OSAP assessment is performed by the Government of Ontario, not the University.  The UTAPS assessment is based on the OSAP assessment, and is performed by the University, so I presume that this is what he was actually referring to.

In any case, unlike with UTAPS, the OSAP assessment does not include the cost of two months interest.  According to the 2013-2014 OSAP Eligibility, Assessment and Review Manual, for the programs covered by the FOI request, the actual tuition and compulsory fee costs are used to assess a student’s need (Page 27).  For the two months interest to be included in this, it would have to be a recognized compulsory fee.

The recognized compulsory fees are as follows (Page 28):

 co-op fees
 student activity fees
 athletic fees
 health services
 student union fees
 laboratory fees
 field placement
 technology fee
 computer software that is a mandatory requirement for the student’s program
 professional fees

Late charges or interest on overdue tuition are not recognized compulsory fees and therefore are not covered under OSAP.

Summary

– OSAP, which is run by the Ontario Government, does not pay the cost of two months of interest for anyone.
– The University does not pay the cost of two months of interest for all OSAP students.
– The University does pay the cost of two months of interest for UTAPS recipients, and this covers 30% of students on OSAP.  I noted this in my original blog, and have brought it up while being interviewed by both The Varsity and The Toronto Star, though neither mentioned it in their articles.

The Message

When I originally emailed Richard Levin, his response was detailed and professional.  He explained the program the University already had in place reimbursing interest for UTAPS recipients.  He acknowledged that the timing mismatch was a problem for students.  He clearly explained that the University was expecting change from the Province, and thought it best to wait instead of overhaul their policies for only one year.  I even wrote in response: “Thank-you for your speedy and detailed reply.”

After this conversation, I consistently acknowledged that the university was a partial victim for having had direct funding decrease in real terms (inflation adjusted) while building and payroll costs escalated above inflation.   I respected the University’s decision to let the province be the architect of change, and consistently advocated for students and the public to pressure the Province to follow through 100% with its policy proposals.

It puzzles me that Mr. Levin’s public response to the same issue is different–a factually inaccurate claim that “what we [U of T] do for all OSAP recipients is… …we pay the two months service charge, we put it in the OSAP assessment, it’s covered.”  I have asked the University to clarify its response to clear up this confusion.  The University should also consider the majority of OSAP students who somehow manage to pay off their tuition two months early, consider the fact that they must somehow manage this with only 60% of their aid money, and think about if it is fitting to say that the early deadline “doesn’t affect most OSAP recipients.”

I am not out to antagonize the university; I am confused by Mr. Levin’s response, not angry.  My goal is to ensure that U of T remains a financially accessible institution, a goal which the university presumably shares.  I am advocating for two things: first, allowing students to pay after they get their aid money, not before, and second, giving students the freedom to not pay for courses they are not taking.  I am also advocating for the Province to address the declining funding that it has given to our University year after year.  They cannot laud Ontario’s universities as the birthplace of the future one day, and then cut their funding on the next, unless the vision for that future is more classes where 1600 students squint at a world-class researcher in Con Hall.  I would appreciate just one thing from the University.  Treat your neediest students with compassion and empathy–please try and understand their circumstances and the challenges they might face when they pay their bills.

As a final note, I would like to talk about the situation for Arts and Science students, because I represent them to the UTSU.  A significant portion of UTAPS money goes to students in Engineering, Pharmacy, and Dentistry–these faculties have very high tuition, so students in them frequently hit the OSAP maximums and must be given UTAPS funds to cover the rest of their assessed needs.  In 2011-2012, only 1,410 of of 8,615 OSAP recipients in Arts and Science, or 16% of students, also receive UTAPS.  The UTAPS interest relief is thus considerably more threadbare for ArtSci students.  With ArtSci students also paying flat fees, there is still considerable need for these students to have per-semester, per-course tuition to make payment policy at U of T truly accessible for all.

Contact Information

If you have any questions about this post, or in general, feel free to contact me:

Ben Coleman
b.coleman@utsu.ca
@tallcoleman

Notes and Data

Transcript of Mr. Levin’s portion of the Interview with John Tory: Transcription of John Tory Interview

Audio file of the whole interview (including my portion): Interview with John Tory Audio

Correspondence with Richard Levin

U of T Facts and Figures, Section F – Student Awards

OSAP Need Assessment and Eligibility Manual: 13-14 Eligibility Manual Part I (3)

The students covered by the FOI request include the following divisions:

First Entry Undergraduate
Faculty/College:
Applied Science and Engineering
Arts & Science St. George
Innis College
New College
St. Michael’s College
Trinity College
University College
Victoria College
Woodsworth College
Music
Kinesiology & Physical Education
Transitional Year Program

Second Entry Undergraduate
Faculty/College:
Dentistry
Law
Medicine
Radiation Sciences
Physician Assistant
Nursing
OISE/UT Undergraduate
Pharmacy
Woodsworth – Cert.

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