Students who are accustomed to the swipe now, pay later approach to tuition payments may have to re-think their finances this fall as more Canadian universities eliminate the option of paying with credit cards.
Universities say they want to trim the transaction fees they pay to financial institutions and most schools are putting the money they save into their operating budgets, while others are directing the savings towards specific projects like bursaries for first-year students.
“This is the mark of a prudent university these days,” said Alan Shaver, vice-president academic and provost at Dalhousie University in Halifax, which will stop processing credit card payments in September.
About 40 per cent of Dalhousie students paid their tuition with a credit card last fall. That cost the school $1 million in processing fees.
Shaver said the decision was made because Dalhousie’s endowment isn’t as large as it used to be. To keep the same number of scholarships and bursaries, money had to be cut from other areas.
“We’re looking for ways where we can have the most bang for our buck,” he said.
Dalhousie joins St. Thomas University in Fredericton as the latest schools to make the shift away from plastic. The University of Prince Edward Island has announced plans to phase out credit cards next year, just as the universities of New Brunswick, British Columbia, Calgary and Alberta have done in recent years.
Taking away credit cards doesn’t mean students will have to line up with stacks of cash. Students can still pay online and through telephone banking, debit, cheques, money orders and wire transfers.
But student groups say these changes make a big difference to people who rely on credit to get to class. It’s not just the convenience factor, or the ability to cash in with Air Miles. They say the change will hurt those who don’t have any other options.
“A lot of students don’t get enough loans and scholarships to cover the entire cost of their education and, therefore, they have to cover it with other ways and they rely on credit card payments to do that,” said Shannon Zimmerman, president of Dalhousie’s student union.
Zimmerman said many Dalhousie students are frustrated they have to take on the extra cost in addition to paying the highest tuition in the country.
“In no case is paying by credit card an ideal situation but for some students it’s going to be that much more difficult to get by when money is tight,” said Katherine Giroux-Bougard, the national chairperson for the Canadian Federation for Students.
Giroux-Bougard said it’s difficult enough for students to pay for their education without worrying about having the funds up front.
Dalhousie has put plans in place to waive late fees for students who are still waiting for their student loans to come in when tuition is due this September. Since the university made the decision to eliminate credit card payments over the summer, the school has been emailing students about the change.
Shaver doesn’t anticipate problems in the fall.
“It’s certainly possible for students to get a line of credit from their banks and who knows, they might even get a better interest rate than they would have putting it on their credit card,” Shaver said.
When the University of Alberta took credit cards off the list of payment options last year, thousands of concerned students joined Facebook groups calling for the administration to reverse the decision.
Despite the reaction, the transition at the University of Alberta went smoothly, said Phyllis Clark, vice president of finance and administration.
“People have accepted that this is the way we do business,” she said.
Many schools like the University of Toronto, Queen’s, McGill and Victoria have never processed credit card payments.
– The Canadian Press