Why I voted to approve Simply Voting for the UTSU election

I apologize for this taking longer than I said it would, but I decided to work on my homework instead, which is probably more important than student politicking.  I did, however, promise to give a full explanation of the title question, so without further ado, in two parts, here’s why I voted to approve the use of Simply Voting as the UTSU’s online election system.

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A Tale of Two Motions

This update is a bit late.  All of the stuff I’m about to talk about happened at the last UTSU board meeting on Jan 24th.

Basically, for the last board meeting, I submitted two motions, which both passed:  The first motion now means that there will be a non-binding referendum before any changes are made to the structure of the UTSU board this year.  The second motion means that the UTSU board will discuss the health and dental plan in detail before voting on a fee increase to the plan at the end of the year.

Here are the original wordings of the motions I submitted, followed by some comments on them: Continue reading

Response from Brad Duguid

Way back in last semester, just after I posted about U of T’s interest charges, I sent a letter to Brad Duguid (pictured below), which said something along the lines of “the current deadlines to pay tuition are bad for students, please fix,” but in terms which were hopefully a little more eloquent.

He sent me a response this morning! It seems to be a list of talking points from the announcement this Christmas, but it’s worth taking a look through.  You can check it out here: Letter from Brad Duguid

If you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to share them.  My email is b.coleman@utsu.ca and my twitter handle is @tallcoleman
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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. Continue reading

Election Reforms and Online Voting

What you need to know about this fall’s UTSU elections

When candidates hand in their nominations packages for the fall UTSU by-elections, they’ll be entering a very different election from year’s past.  The Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) has enacted a number of changes this year which will change several key aspects of how the elections are run.

Online Voting… Now! Continue reading

How much interest does U of T charge on unpaid tuition?

Service Charges at U of T and Who They Affect

As many students at the University of Toronto probably know from the pain of their pocketbooks, if you don’t pay off all your outstanding tuition and fees by November 15th, you have to start paying interest on what you still owe the university.  Officially, it’s a “service charge,” but in practice, it’s 1.5% interest compounded monthly, an incentive to make you pay up quick, or else.  It doesn’t matter if you’re on OSAP or not, come November, everything is due.

Just so we’re clear on what 1.5% interest compounded monthly means: annually, that’s a rate of 19.56%.  The BMO SPC Air Miles MasterCard has an annual rate of 19.5%.  It’s credit card-level interest, the hard stuff.

If the majority of students paying this interest were just negligent, then no big deal.  It would just be a slap on the wrist for not making your bank payment on time.  However, the numbers tell a different story, one that is far more worrying.

What the numbers tell is a story of many different students, all who don’t pay off their tuition on time because they have no other choice.  All those outstanding balances are students who are living on the financial edge, waiting for money from OSAP, from jobs or parents, and not getting it fast enough.

Show me the Numbers!

I got the following data from a freedom of information request submitted to the University over the summer.  It only covers full-time undergraduates at the St. George campus, but it gives a good overall idea of how service charges affect students at U of T.  We’ll look at some of the big numbers from 2012, and then look at trends over time.

The Big 2012 Numbers

In November 2012, the most recent month with the biggest numbers, 8,040 students paid interest to the University, and 4,308 of them were OSAP students.  Judging by numbers from past years, that’s about 28% of students who haven’t paid off their tuition by November and end up with interest.  On average, they paid about $57 in interest, which means on average, they still had about $3,800 owing in tuition and fees.

Over the whole 2011-2012 academic year (the latest full year available), the University raked in $1,756,292.42 charging interest to students with unpaid balances.  To put that in perspective, that money could almost entirely pay for all of the bursaries given out by New College (~$1,834,000).

Now, while those big numbers are pretty shocking, what really illustrates the problems inherent with having students pay credit-card level interest on balances after November 15th is looking at how those interest charges change over time.  Combined with some of the publicly-available data on numbers of students and how many of them receive OSAP, I made this graph: Continue reading