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Opinion: Transferring colleges represents failure to provide students with equitable support

Students switch because of scholarships, culture, and experiences associated with different colleges
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JACQUELINE RENEE/THE VARSITY
JACQUELINE RENEE/THE VARSITY

Most UTSG students know of each college’s distinct culture, even if they’ve never stepped foot in some of them. Stereotypes regarding who belongs to which college, the different atmospheres, and the events they hold are just some of the components that illustrate a college’s culture.

How that is created has a lot to do with the respective fees and general community atmosphere in each college. I believe that certain colleges do a better job of making these aspects more accessible, which allows students to more easily feel like part of a community. How different colleges approach this will affect whether or not students will attempt to transfer out of them.

I have thought about switching colleges many times, but I didn’t because I was told that having Trinity College on my degree would be beneficial in the long run. Once I moved off residence, I was separated from Trinity, so my discomfort with the college didn’t matter as much anymore. However, many people do feel strongly enough about their experience with a college to switch, and they do so for various reasons.

Ikran Jama, a third-year student and the president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU), transferred from New College to Victoria College for the scholarship opportunities. Victoria offers automatic scholarships to any student who has a GPA of 3.5 or higher at the end of their first, second, or third year. This had a significant impact on Jama’s decision to switch. The financial assistance that Victoria offers helps high-achieving students with the financial burden of U of T.

Colleges have many other financial differences, in addition to scholarships. For example, the cost of residence, including a meal plan, at New College starts at $11,245, while the cost of residence, including a meal plan, at St. Michael’s College starts at $13,836, and starts at $15,508 at Trinity College.

These costs make an assumption of how much money students can spend to be a part of the college’s community; higher costs for student living communicates that the students who are members of the college need to be of a certain financial standing to partake in residence life. 

Some students cite many other reasons for their decision to switch, most notably the college’s culture. This was a primary reason as to why I considered switching colleges.

Trinity is seen to be an exclusive college, most likely due to its application process and small population. As a Trinity student, I can say that there definitely is an aura of exclusivity, shown explicitly through its chants during Orientation Week, one being, “Half of you applied!” referring to the number of students who applied to the college but did not get accepted. This derogatory taunt is expressly exclusionary and highlights the pride held by members of Trinity College for its exclusivity.

Tresa Leblanc-Doucet, a third-year student, made the switch from Trinity to Victoria, saying, “I value inclusivity highly, and much more than I value exclusivity or prestige, so I think the biggest reason why I switched was so that my college experience lined up with my values.”

The cultures of each college is a culmination of their many systems. Victoria Chen, ASSU Treasurer and Trinity student who lived in Innis College her first year and Trinity College her second, noticed that the systems of residence dons, consistent events, and open and accessible spaces in the Innis residence building fostered a more inviting and relaxed environment than the one she experienced at Trinity. While Chen didn’t formally switch colleges, her experience says a lot about the differences that one might find at different colleges.

The systems that Innis has in place do a good job of inviting people in and creating a fun culture. The first time I stepped into Innis, I was instantly struck by the playful colouring of the boards around the lobby, and the amount of news about events around the college that week. These very surface-level aspects of the college emulated a culture of fun and leisure.

Jama felt disassociated from New College because of the lack of information provided about any commuter or campus events. To her, the college didn’t do a good job of inviting commuter students into their community. Colleges not being as inviting or exciting can also factor into students’ decision to switch.

If colleges care to stop losing students, then they need to emulate the cultures of the colleges that students are choosing. Colleges should try to listen to the concerns of students who feel the need to turn to other colleges.

In Jama’s case, New College could easily try to reach out to commuter students through various venues to ensure all are made aware of events happening on campus. With regard to Trinity, the administrators must understand the barriers presented by its reputation of exclusivity and high costs. Small elements of a college that build its culture, and other small steps can be taken to try to make each college a place that students won’t want to escape.    

Keely Bastow is a third-year Political Science student at Trinity College. Bastow is an employee of the Arts and Science Students’ Union.