UNB tuition policy change leaves some students scrambling

Some part-time students at the University of New Brunswick are about to see a tuition increase.

Starting in September, students taking nine or more credit hours, or three courses, will be considered full-time both financially and academically.

Previously, students could take three courses and be considered full time academically but part-time financially, meaning they paid per course.

I'm screwed. That was my first thought. - Chris Kim, fourth-year international student

Chris Kim is one of the students affected by the change. He's an international student from South Korea studying software engineering.

He has one year left for his degree, but on Aug. 14 he received an email from UNB financial services telling him he would have to pay full tuition — $9,200 per semester — instead of the $3,500 he expected to pay.

"I was very furious, like very upset because all of my plan, it just like ruined it," Kim said.

"I'm screwed. That was my first thought."

Kim contacted the university to ask for help and was told he could take four courses in the fall semester and two during the winter. That way he would only have to pay full tuition for one semester to complete his degree on time.

Kim's now registered for a fourth course, but he said finding out this late in the summer means there are fewer options.

"By taking four courses I add one course I don't even want to take," he said. "And then I gave up one course I really want to take in winter."

Financial services also recommended he apply for aid through bursaries and scholarships, but Kim said he's heard some of the deadlines for those have already past.

"If they told us at least before summer starts then I can at least like, plan better."

In line with other universities

The university said this change is the result of a year-long analysis of its tuition rates.

George MacLean, vice-president academic, said during UNB realized it was the only university in the region that had a difference between financial and academic definitions of a full-time student.

"Up until now students would be full time academically if they took three courses but they had to take four courses to be considered full time financially," he said. "And that meant that those students who were not taking four courses were not eligible for a whole series of benefits and advantages."

Angela Bosse/CBC

Affected students will now be able to access the university health and dental plan, as well as services like the Currie Center.

Only six per cent of UNB students will be affected by the change, MacLean said. The university plans to work with concerned students affected by the change.

MacLean said he understands concerns students have, but maintains the timing of the decision was not meant to increase stress.

"Regrettably, it was only last week that we were able to get this notification out," he said.

Students have until Sept. 13 to make changes without academic or financial penalty.

Call for a grace period

Kim said if he knew this change was coming earlier he would have tried to save more money over the summer. He's looking for a job for the fall after his co-op term working for IBM ends.

He said he's reached out to the student advocate, the financial services office and the international student advisor, but so far hasn't received much help beyond the advice to split his courses differently.

"I couldn't get help when I really need it."

He wishes the university would have considered a one-year grace period for students who were already enrolled to adjust to the change, or grandfather in current students and only apply the change to incoming undergrads.

Kim also said international students are more vulnerable to the change, since their tuition is already higher and they don't have the ability to apply for student loans as is the case for domestic students.

As for having access to full-time student services, Kim said he doesn't use them. He believes he's paying extra money without getting anything useful in return.

Student union reaction

MacLean said while some students will be paying more, they now have the chance to take an extra course, in addition to qualifying for extra services.

"The student union was quite positive in their feedback on this because they recognized that this was going to create opportunities for students that they simply didn't have access to before," MacLean said.

The University of New Brunswick Student Union offered a statement by email.

"The UNB Student Union was not consulted at any point during the discussions or decisions involved in making this change," said executive member Grace Mangusso. 

Submitted

Mangusso said the student union executive met with the UNB president last week and shared their concerns about the effect the change will have on students.

Students who are now-considered full time have missed the April 15 deadline to apply for scholarship support from UNB Undergraduate Awards.

Mangusso said while some students will now be supported by the health benefits, "this does not reflect "positive feedback" from the student union as we clearly understand the significant negative financial impact of this change on our peers."