Ontario’s optional student fees causing budgeting headaches for some at Queen’s

Click to play video: 'Queen’s AMS bracing for optional fee funding cuts'
Queen’s AMS bracing for optional fee funding cuts
Queen's AMS concerned optional fees means less money for services – Aug 19, 2019

The provincial government has an extensive list of fees students can opt-in or -out of paying.

And it’s causing budgeting headaches for some on campus.

Social issues, programs addressing food insecurity, legal aid and dental care are all in question, according to Auston Pierce, Queen’s University’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) president.

“The sexual health resource centre sexual assault line, here in Kingston — that’s now an optional fee,” Pierce says.

Pierce said it’s an uncertain time for the AMS budgeting for the upcoming year.

Students have until the end of September to decide which fees they will opt-in or -out of, which means he won’t see hard numbers until October.

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Pierce said AMS is aiming at reducing budgets by roughly one-third.

“That’s kind of what we’ve been planning for,” he says. “It could be much greater than that.”

AMS isn’t alone.

CFRC station manager Dinah Jansen says the university radio station — which has been broadcasting since 1922 — is operating on roughly $250,000 per year.

“We’ve also developed a skinny budget in case we are defunded perhaps up to 40-50 per cent,” Jansen says. “We anticipate losses that high.”

For AMS, the optional fees represent 18 per cent of the overall budget, Pierce says.

If an undergraduate opted-out of all optional fees, he says, he or she would save about $180 a year.

That’s a small amount compared to what students have lost in the provincially-funded Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Pierce credits OSAP cuts with the sudden increase he’s seen in students applying for bursaries.

“We’ve actually seen, at the university, an increase of 35 per cent in bursary applications,” he says.

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Many of those bursaries — which are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — now fall under the optional fee list.

Pierce says their Municipal Affairs Commission (MAC) has been particularly hard hit by the provincial changes.

The MAC does advocacy and outreach work in the greater Kingston community, Pierce explains. The majority of the committees under the commission are now gone.

“Committees that worked towards helping seniors, helping students, at-risk youth,” says Pierce, giving examples, “providing breakfasts for young people in our community, largely anything that isn’t directly related to students we couldn’t afford to keep.”

Pierce says long-term budgeting is now nearly impossible when the support from optional fees could vary by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

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