North Island College students will have health and dental coverage as of September, as determined by a student referendum in March. According to the North Island Students’ Union (NISU), students voted 97 per cent in favour of the benefits.
The provider is Green Shield Canada. The cost for a full-time student will be about $23 per month.
John Cowan, who has taken three semesters at NIC, feels the whole thing is wrong. For one thing, he said the voter turnout only represents about 10 per cent of the total student body. He also notes the referendum ballot asked if students are in favour of authorizing the union — a separate entity from the college — to collect an incidental fee of up to $24 per month from full-time students for extended health and dental benefits.
The referendum question does not include the word ‘mandatory,’ but when he registered for the fall term on June 3, Cowan questioned why his bill included a $275 ‘incidental’ charge. It was the first time he had been informed about a benefits package, let alone a mandatory one.
“I don’t see $275 as incidental,” said Cowan, who has his sights on a social work diploma. He notes $275 is the equivalent of taking one course.
Cowan also questions how 10 per cent of students confirming a proposal can be considered binding.
“None of it seems to be above board. It just seems way too deliberate. There’s people forking out money and all they’re getting is a box wrapped in brown paper that says health benefits on it, and they’re not allowed to look inside…There’s too much about this that just doesn’t make any sense.”
Fellow student Jackson Daley enrolled in the Early Childhood Education certificate program for the fall before being notified of the health coverage requirement. He says he needs to take out extra student loan money, or sell his prized collectibles to pay the extra $275.
“This fee has put my education in a state of limbo,” Daley said.
Jason V, a student on disability who prefers to withhold his last name, needs to pay the $275 himself because a government grant only covers tuition and books.
“Since this is mandatory and must be paid before the first class of the semester, this seems an additional burden as there is no way for us to come up with this extra money,” Jason said. “Opting out is an option, but that requires filling out an online form system and disclosure of our PWD (Persons with Disabilities) status and policy numbers. This seems like a beach of privacy to me.”
An opt-out form requires the name of a student’s extended health and dental provider, and group number of their plan.
“There needs to be some way to check that the person who is opting out is on a plan,” says James Bowen, NISU executive director. “There’s no personal information attached to that group number. It’s a very general piece of information.”
The benefits plan is a first in the college’s 40-year history.
“Almost 400 students voted, which is well above the threshold required in our bylaws for something like this,” Bowen said. “We think we had a great turnout relative to the size of the student population.
“We’re not the first to go through this process,” he added. “We’ve worked with the college hand and hand throughout this process.”
Bowen said the union emailed every student about the plan.
“It’s the number one thing students ask us for,” he said. “We’re confident, based on the information we have from the survey and the results of the referendum, that this is something that almost universally students support and want. We feel we’ve fulfilled all our obligations.”