Low Opt-outs Recognize High Value In Campus Services

optouts

St. Clair students, apparently, beg to differ with the Conservative provincial government’s suggestion that many of the services and programs provided by campus governments were “non-essential”.

Early this year, the government introduced the Student Choice Initiative. It objected to the fact that some universities and colleges impose hundreds – even thousands – of dollars in fees for student government-provided services and programs. The Tories argued that some students may never use those services, and some of the fees also support political and social causes that the students do not themselves endorse.

The new policy allowed students, beginning this fall, to “opt-out” of such services and programs – and either not pay the related fees from the outset, or receive refunds by an opting-out process.

A number of the services provided by St. Clair’s Student Representative Council (SRC), and its fellow campus government at the Chatham campus (Thames Students Incorporated/TSI), were threatened by the introduction of the non-mandatory fee policy.

When students were paying their tuition and related fees throughout the summer, they had the opportunity to “opt-out” of the $50 annual SRC and TSI membership fees.

Also throughout the summer, the student governments conducted information campaigns to explain the disadvantages of opting-out. Among those, they noted that non-fee-payers would not be eligible to apply for the on-campus jobs provided by the governments, or to attend various entertainment events (or they’d have to pay higher ticket prices to do so), or to receive bursaries bankrolled by the student organizations. (This was the SRC’s “A tiny investment for HUUUUGE benefits” campaign.)

It appears that students recognized the value of those and other SRC and TSI services ...

... Because, by the opting-out deadline of September 16, only four percent of students at Windsor’s Main/South Windsor Campus had sought fee refunds (348 students of the total campus enrolment of 8,526); and only six percent of Downtown Windsor Campus students opted-out (181 of 2,836).

In Chatham, 29 of 1,227 students opted-out of the TSI fee (2.4 percent).

There was one anomaly involved in the opt-out scenario: 640 students of 1,070 – 59.5 percent – at St. Clair’s satellite campus at Toronto’s Ace Acumen Academy opted-out of the SRC fee.

For half-a-dozen years, St. Clair has had a “sister school” relationship with that private college in Toronto. Acumen operates as a high school and English As A Second Language training facility for international students. Many of those students can, subsequently, enrol in a half-dozen St. Clair-accredited-and-overseen programs, based at the Toronto school. From the outset of the partnership between the two schools, the SRC was designated (by St. Clair’s administration) to represent and provide services and activities to students at Acumen.

“The opt-out figure at Acumen was disappointing, but not entirely surprising,” said SRC President Kiara Clement. “The geographical separation between our two schools has made it challenging for us to provide consistent service to Acumen. We are exploring ways to address that – including the possibility of establishing some sort of staffed office in Toronto to provide more direct services to students there.”

Overall, however, the SRC is thrilled with – and appreciative of – the support shown by students in the form of the low number of opt-outs in Windsor.

“I think it demonstrates that, contrary to some of the negative commentary about student governments that was made by the government when it introduced the Student Choice Initiative, the vast majority of our students recognize our function, services and programs as important, helpful and essential,” Clement said.

Also the subject of the opt-out option under the Student Choice Initiative was the college’s Alumni Association.

Although it chiefly provides services to graduates, the vast majority of current students recognized the value of that organization’s role in helping to fund campus clubs’ activities and bursaries. College-wide (all campuses), 1,290 students opted-out of the Alumni Association’s non-mandatory membership fee – that is, 10.1 percent of St. Clair’s 12,817 full-time postsecondary students.

STABLE ENROLMENT

All of those numbers and percentages were made possible by the release of the college’s official enrolment numbers on September 17.

They were calculated by the Registrar’s Office following the “ten-day count” date of September 16: the final day that students could withdraw (drop out) from classes and receive a tuition refund.

St. Clair’s Fall-of-2019 enrolment – all campuses (Windsor, Chatham and Toronto/Acumen) – stands at 14,424. That’s up slightly from last year’s (Fall 2018) figure of 14,351.

Those numbers include students enrolled in Adult Training and Apprenticeships.

In terms of strictly full-time, postsecondary students, this year’s enrolment is 12,817 students, up two from 12,815 last year.

While the population has, therefore, remained static, the college’s administration notes that both this year and last featured record-level enrolment – several thousand students more than were enrolled half-a-decade ago.

"From the institutional standpoint of the short-term stability and long-term sustainability of the college, I'm always encouraged to see strong enrolment numbers," said St. Clair President Patti France. "But from the perspective of educators, all of the college's faculty and staff aren't looking at numbers – we're looking at people. We're seeing the individual hopes and dreams of 13,000-plus students, and realizing that it is our duty to provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their ambitions. Regardless of our enrolment, we are re-energized every year to ensure that each of those individual quests meets with success."

International enrolment continues to be a major part of the success story. Almost 4,200 international students from over 60 nations are enrolled at the Windsor and Chatham campuses this year – approximately one-third of the total student body. There are another 1,077 international students enrolled at Toronto’s Ace Acumen Academy satellite campus.

There is one major “campus anomaly” in this year’s enrolment figures ...

... The total enrolment at the Main/South Windsor Campus has dipped by 13 percent, to 8,526 – caused by what would seem to be a catastrophic, 40 percent decline in Business students ...

... But it’s not really a decline, but (instead) a migration. A number of Business programs that were previously based at Main Campus have now moved to the downtown Zekelman campus – where enrolment is up 83 percent (to 1,743 from 486 last year).

Another glitch appears in the form of a 24 percent decline in enrolment in the School of Engineering Technologies. But that actually involves a structural reconfiguration. The students haven’t actually been “lost” ... their programs have been shifted to the School of Skilled Trades, which explains its 65 percent enrolment increase.

Enrolment at Chatham Campus is up by three percent, to 1,227 full-timers.

One final anomaly ... Enrolment at Toronto’s Ace Acumen Academy is down by nine percent, to 1,077 full-timers.

That may be a short-lived situation, however.

Several years ago, the former Liberal provincial government announced that it was mothballing the partnerships between private and public colleges, because it didn’t think students were receiving “the full collegiate experience” via these arrangements.

As that moratorium was gradually phased in, the intake of new (first-year) students was gradually phased out, and the numbers declined over the past couple of years.

A few months after coming into power in 2018, the new Conservative government announced that it didn’t have a problem with private/public partnerships, and that the Liberal decision to eliminate them would be reversed.

There may be some new rules and regulations applied to such partnerships, but the fact that they have been green-lighted again means that the enrolment at such schools – including Ace Acumen/St. Clair – should start to climb again over the next few years.