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College loses 400 students after strike

Province gave all students at Ontario's 24 public colleges that opportunity to drop out and receive tuition reimbursement after faculty strike.
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Confederation College
More than 400 Confederation College students have opted to withdraw from their programs and get their tuition reimbursed. (Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com)

THUNDER BAY – More than 400 students at Confederation College have chosen to drop out and receive a full tuition refund, an option all college students in Ontario were afforded after a five-week faculty strike disrupted their fall semester.

Confederation College president Jim Madder on Wednesday said 403 students – or about 14 per cent of full-time students – had exercised the option to withdraw from their programs, an amount that was consistent with other Ontario colleges.

“In a normal year – one without a strike – we lose about five to seven per cent of our students during the year,” Madder said. “We also lose students between the first and second semesters so I think if somebody was struggling and was given the opportunity to get a full refund they probably dropped out.”

The strike at Ontario’s 24 public colleges began on Oct. 16 and continued until Premier Kathleen Wynne announced on Nov. 16 she intended for her government to legislate the nearly 1,200 faculty members back to work. Classes resumed the following week.

As part of the strike resolution, the province gave all students the opportunity to quit their studies and receive full reimbursement of their tuition.

Madder said he heard a number of reasons from students on why they were dropping out, including getting full-time jobs during the labour dispute or wanting to take a different program.

There were 30 international students who withdrew but 20 indicated they intended to enroll in a different program, he added.

“I’d expect a number of those students who dropped out to come back, either in January or next fall,” Madder said. “We’re going to keep in touch with them and provide them with some opportunity.”

While most programs have been able to resume without any major issues, first-year students in the school’s aviation program were told they may have to travel outside the city to receive their required flight time after the college decided to reset any hours accumulated prior to the strike.

Madder was asked about whether that program specifically was hit by drop-outs.

“If anything, less so,” Madder said. “It would be wonderful if we could continue all the flight hours continuously through the winter but we can’t do that. I think people are satisfied with the resolution that we have.”

Confederation College student union president Jodi Afonso said things are finally starting to feel back to normal for many students.

“I was hoping after the first week everybody would be settled in. It took about a week-and-a-half but that’s OK,” Afonso said. “They’re starting to understand when their assignments are due, when their tests are going to be and are reconnecting with faculty members.”

Even though the drop-out deadline to receive a full tuition was Tuesday, Madder said power outages at the college’s satellite campuses have meant some students will have received an extension and could increase the final number.

Students who are remaining in school but will incur additional expenses, including travel and child care, as a result of the strike and modified schedule can still apply for reimbursement up until the end of the first semester.