A Fee that Fits: Why Housing Is Moving to a Four Installment Plan
The cost of housing is hot topic in the news and media lately, especially for cities like Toronto. Whether it’s discussing the cost of buying homes or rental challenges, we in Housing & Residence Life see a clear connection between finances and housing.
In the past, our residence system had a financial process of two payments: one in the summer period, once students were offered and confirmed a space in residence; and the second in the fall term. This required students to be prepared to pay a large chunk of money (half of their 8-month residence fees) quite soon after receiving an offer into residence. For many students, this could be a daunting challenge. We offered payment plans as an option for students who were waiting on OSAP or additional financial resources that may be delayed past the payment deadline in July, but we found that this plan was simultaneously underused (i.e. many students that were eligible and needed it didn’t know they could ask) and maxed out (i.e. those that did ask instantly said, “yes, please!” to the plan).
In the past few years, these requests have risen, to the point where we were receiving around 50 requests each year. The rise is likely due to the continued challenges students face financially. Our payment plans and delayed payment options, not being advertised on our website, were not an easy option for students to gather information about. Students were forced to inquire about payment delay options with OSAP in order to receive information about the payment plan and the form itself. This was a clear imbalance in our system, where only the students who asked received the information and option for a payment plan; others may have been silently struggling.
Getting at the Truth: Are We Building Steps or Walls?
So we began to ask the question: is our current system of 2 payments the right fit/need for our students? Why do have so many students who apply and then decline or let their offer expire? Was is because of the fee installment timeline and a lack of transparency around the option available for a payment plan? Further, were we being transparent with students that an opportunity exists for a delayed payment structure? Fees are inevitable in residence—but were we being the best support we could be?
So we began to look deeper into our payment plan process and ask important questions such as:
- Who is using the payment plan request process?
- Are we missing anyone that could benefit from that process?
- Why are some students not using the payment plan process?
It became clear through survey responses and the increasing number of payment plan requests we had some work to do in order to make our fee installments more accessible for a larger population of students and to ensure we were meeting their needs in the journey to attend and be a part of the Ryerson community.
Aspirations for the Future: Tear Down the Walls!
To remove one barrier, we decided to move to a 3 fee installment model for the 2016–2017 academic year, and a 4 fee installment model for the 2017–2018 year. Our hope is that this will provide students more opportunity and time to pay the installments and not continue to create a barrier for our students going into the residence community.
Cost is a powerful barrier to participate in housing, but we know it’s not our only one. Currently, Ryerson’s number of on-campus beds is 856, which accounts for about 5% of the incoming first year population. We will be opening two new residence buildings in the Fall of 2018; Jarvis St and the Church Street Development will add 925 beds to our overall operation, essentially doubling Housing’s presence on campus. These new buildings are an exciting addition to our program, as data collected across Ontario through the Ontario Association of College and University Housing Officers (OACUHO), our international Housing association (ACUHO-I), and Academica Group shows that the opportunity to live in residence provides students a positive impact on their experience and their ability to succeed in their chosen field.
This data means it’s important for Housing operations to remove barriers, wherever possible, to ensure that students wanting to live in residence have that opportunity. In RyersonSA’s case, we’re removing barriers by building new residence spaces and breaking down payments into more manageable amounts, while also allowing for additional accommodations with payment plans for those who require it. Ideally, these will begin to create more ways students are able to engage within the residence community during their time at Ryerson.
Being For the Whole Community
Now this is all just a start; we will still have a limited number of beds in residence comparable to Ryerson’s student population, so many of our students will still need to commute from family or supporters’ homes, or rent an off-campus accommodation. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still engage within the Housing and Residence Life community. We offer nightly stays in the commuter hostel, where students are able to book a residence room for a night at a low fee. This program has been widely successful, providing nightly accommodations to over 900 students within the 2016–2017 academic year.
A second option for students is connecting into our ever-growing Off-Campus Housing Office. This is a space for students who are looking to rent and need support in beginning the search of finding a rental option, or those who are currently renting but would like more information on tenant rights and support on any on-going issues they may be experiencing. Through the office’s services, we’re attempting to bring the essence and community feel of our residence operation to all students within the Ryerson community, regardless if they live on campus or not.
We have a mission to help all students with their housing needs, and we want all students to feel as though Housing and Residence Life is a support for them. If we can create the benefit of living in residence for students outside of residence, as well as within, we’ll be closer to our mission to support all students: “Our Home. Our Campus. Our Community.”
Truths & Aspirations: RyersonSA’s Critical Reflection on Past Failures and Future Growth is a week long series for #Canada150 in which RyersonSA members reflect on a way we may have let students down, what we learned from it, and how it will affect what we aspire to be in the future.