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Overcharged in college fees, undercharged in housing

Trent University students were overcharged by about $0.71 each in college ancillary fees for the 2015/2016 academic school year.

For housing, however, the increase was about $4.70 less, as re-calculated by Financial Services on request from the College and Student Services Committee (CASSC).College fees are compulsory for all students, while housing and meal charges are applicable only to those students who live in residence.

However, the report from Financial Services pointed out the challenges of budget re-calculation because of some uncertainties in the compulsory ancillary fee protocol in a number of areas.

CASSC issued a statement in light of the inaccurate ancillary fee increase by the University:

“CASSC is made up of representatives from the elected student associations, college cabinets, international students, and Trent staff. Part of the Committee’s mandate each year is to recommend by student vote any ancillary fee increases beyond automatic increases. There are two types of automatic increases: by the cost of living (Ontario Consumer Price Index [CPI]), or by the increase in costs for unionized staff and utilities. Due to an oversight at CASSC last year, it was thought that Housing, Colleges, and Athletics were entitled to cost of living, but in fact, the amount was staff and utilities, and a vote should have been taken to approve a CPI increase for Housing and Colleges. (Athletics increased by staff and utilities.) At the most recent CASSC meeting on Wednesday, January 20, the Associate Vice President Students Nona Robinson provided figures that CASSC had requested from Financial Services about what the difference would have been if staff and utilities had been applied instead of CPI. For colleges, the difference was a budget reduction of $4,788, or about 71 cents per student less. For Housing, the difference was a budget increase of $5,186, or about $4.70 per student more if staff and utilities had been applied. After discussions, the student representatives voted to approve the 2015/2016 increases; five in favour, none against, and one abstention. CASSC extends our apologies for the mistake.”

Robinson stood by her earlier statement to Arthur, saying she apologizes and takes responsibility for the mistake. But CASSC is the committee that approves student ancillary fee increases, she added, so in effect, it was also the responsibility of all the members of last year’s committee
(including herself) to determine whether or not the increases needed a vote.

In keeping with her pervious comment to look into ancillary fee increases over the past years, Robinson confirmed during the recent CASSC meeting that the increases were all in compliance with protocol.

However, it was discovered that the ancillary fee budget for the 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 academic years were not presented to the CASSC. They will look further into the missing budget.

Because of difficulties faced while ensuring compliance to the compulsory ancillary fee protocol, Financial Services identified a number of areas that required clarification, such as, “Does the protocol allow for salary increases for exempt staff?”

Financial Services also stated “charges for physical plant services will increase if the space occupied by the ancillary operation increases, or if there are increases in the physical resources staff complement that partly underlay these charges.”

It was also pointed out that increases in volume are not addressed by the protocol, and that the administrative overhead is a percentage of revenue and will therefore increase as revenue increases.

It was further stressed that the Athletics budget, which is funded by a combination of student fees and community memberships, in particular will have a problem adhering to the protocol.

It was suggested that the current protocol assumes very simple, static circumstance and is not well suited to more complex, dynamic situations, according to Financial Services.

CASSC is currently looking into revising their terms of reference.

In response to the suggestions put forth by Financial Services in terms of the protocol, the need for a more transparent, easy to understand ancillary fee protocol in particular was raised at the recent CASSC meeting.

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