By Rochelle Raveendran
The virtual fall semester is proving costly for Ryerson students. Concerns about additional course expenses plus full tuition have been an added level of stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi’s recent announcement that the winter semester will primarily be online—with no mention of plans to reduce tuition—raises questions about how students’ school expenses may increase over the 2020-21 academic year.
A number of students have complained about courses using online platforms other than D2L—such as MyLab and WebAssign—to host quizzes and assignments.
To use these platforms, students must either buy an etextbook or an access code that provides a short-term subscription to the text. Although access codes are cheaper, they are not available for all etextbooks sold by the Ryerson Campus Store.
“It’s not Ryerson’s obligation to do that but…it would definitely be in the best interest of the students and…show that they are looking out for us”
Ayaan Irfan, a second-year public health student, spent $650 on etextbooks for the fall semester.
Irfan said it was unethical for Ryerson to make students pay extra to access labs on MyLab instead of posting them on D2L. If the semester were in person, he said, students would not have to pay these costs.
“The courses are charging the actual fee of the lab that we’re not even attending, plus the lectures, plus the extra [online platform] fees,” he said.
Many of his friends in the public health program are avoiding additional expenses by completing three months’ worth of labs and quizzes within MyLab’s 14-day free trial period, he said.
Irfan said Ryerson is not considering how the pandemic has impacted students’ finances. He said access to all required platforms should be included in tuition for an online semester.
“The course tuition fee is actually for the whole course. Coming into the lecture hall, you’re paying for the lecture hall. If you look at the actual picture, you’re paying for even the electricity. You’re paying for that extreme. So, $650 is basically being earned just by [me] sitting at home,” he said.
Victoria Gosio, a second-year business management student, said she spent $375 on etextbooks.
Two of her courses post weekly homework questions and quizzes on MyLab. She said these assignments could easily be moved to D2L.
Gosio said that considering the current financial crisis, it would be “very accommodating and thoughtful” for professors to limit costs for students with encouragement from president Lachemi.
She said professors should be urged by the administration to make courses accessible without their textbooks and suggested increasing content on lecture slideshows or providing additional resources to students.
“It’s not Ryerson’s obligation to do that but…it would definitely be in the best interest of the students and really show that they are looking out for us,” Gosio said.
In an emailed statement to The Eyeopener, the university said they’re focused on helping students impacted by COVID-19 and have distributed over $5 million through bursary programs.
Ryerson also said current tuition and fees will be maintained through the fall 2020 semester.
The university said they’ve incurred almost $10 million in additional expenses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, while their normal expenses have not changed.
According to the university, all teaching, learning and support services for students that they would regularly receive if they were on campus are still available remotely.
Many students also believe the cost of etextbooks should be covered by tuition fees for an online semester.
“Rather than being able to bank that money for a future rainy day….I’m having to pay it towards books”
A first-year social work student, who asked to remain anonymous, said they spent close to $200 on required textbooks for her courses.
The student lost their job in March and has since been receiving CERB payments. They said job openings are scarce and prospects are worse for students who lack educational qualifications.
“Even dishing out $200 as a student, it’s money at the end of the day,” they said.
They purchased one of their textbooks from a classmate who bought the PDF and sold it to others for half the price.
The student said etextbooks should be included in tuition to alleviate students’ financial burden.
“There should be some sort of incentives in place for the students to help better their success and not put them in a shithole, basically, when they’re just starting out,” they said.
Christopher Bell, a mature student in the social work program, spent $150 on etextbooks for two courses.
He said it was frustrating that he had to buy both textbooks when only a few chapters from each were listed as required readings.
Bell said in times of social uncertainty, students are among the most vulnerable. Though etextbook costs may seem small, he said, they are still a significant expense.
“Rather than being able to bank that money for a future rainy day or start putting that money towards a future semester’s tuition or whatnot, I’m having to pay it towards books,” he said.
For international students, expenses are even greater. According to the Ryerson website, depending on a student’s faculty tuition fees can range from $28,570 to $38,430, compared to $7,041 to $11,149 for domestic students.
“It feels like a lot of emotional energy. Forget financial spending, it’s at my emotional expense”
Santiago Rodrigues, a second-year engineering student from Brazil, spent more than $400 on course materials. He said he is also paying an additional $2,000 more in tuition fees compared to the last academic year.
Rodrigues paid more money to access Top Hat, an education software used by one of his courses to post quizzes, assignments and lecture notes. He also spent $90 on six months’ access to an engineering communication simulation created through Ametros Learning.
Rodrigues said it was unfair to make students pay for software required for a large percentage of their grade. He said courses should either stick to platforms students have access to already or platforms that are subsidized by the university.
“We’re not getting in-class education so I don’t think we should have to pay so much for tuition, but regardless, since now we really need access to these softwares, we shouldn’t have to pay for it,” he wrote over Facebook Messenger.
Rodrigues said should the winter semester also be online—which at the time of the interview was unknown—he would think about either deferring a semester or taking a part-time course load.
Almost every student interviewed said the current full tuition fees are unreasonable for the virtual fall semester.
Mira Zeldin, a first-year social work student, said she has classes that are not conducting any live lectures this semester but will still have assignments, a midterm and a final exam. One of her professors is not offering any office hours either.
“It’s like, sorry, why the fuck am I paying to teach myself,” she said. “Especially in first year when this is the time when we’re supposed to be getting engaged and really enjoying the program and starting to understand university life.”
While Zeldin praised some of her professors she said there are a few that are not providing enough support for students.
She said the university should either issue a partial refund for the fall semester or encourage certain professors to do more to provide students with an adequate learning experience.
“It feels like a lot of emotional energy. Forget financial spending, it’s at my emotional expense to not understand what this or that assignment is.”