Disappointing lack of accessible support for students

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After having survived a whirlwind of midterms in the past few weeks, my mind was just not up to the task of any more strenuous thought. I sent a text message to several friends: “My brain is empty. I have no opinions. What makes you mad?” They all similarly responded: “Textbook fees. Tuition prices. Not being able to opt out of paying for amenities we don’t use.” Simply put, post-secondary education is expensive – overwhelmingly so.

This led me to look in to what my family and I are paying for when it comes to my university education. The tuition fee for each class is standard, as well as U-pass fees (allowing students all-access to public transportation in Edmonton and area for the months in which they are studying). It is other fees, however, that do not seem to be giving students a bang for their buck.

The remaining extra fees are for student health and wellness. This includes counselling services, the sexual assault centre, student tutoring and academic support, and other important services. While each student may not use these services, I can see the value in supporting these resources financially to ensure students who do need help can access it. That being said: if we are all expected to pay into these services, should they not be of the highest possible quality?

A major concern of both my friends and fellow students is mental health. Whether it is a chronic illness, a life event, or stress, the mental health of post-secondary students has always been a concern. And yet, for those who have attempted to navigate the supports offered by their universities, it can often feel as though all the responsibility is on the individual. How can you advocate for yourself when you don’t know what to ask for?

Often times, especially in large universities, students are forced to prove their illness or struggles with endless documentation: from their doctors, professors or counsellors. When they have proven they are worthy of receiving supports, they are left to navigate the rest of the process themselves.

While the programs in place may have been put in place with the best of intentions, they are not as helpful to the students as one would hope. For example, if a student is struggling academically, they will “suggest” the student take an online course – for which they must pay up to $200 – on creating healthy academic habits. If a student is not performing academically due to stress and illness, is giving them more work helpful? These courses serve to ease the symptom – poor academic performance – but not the true issue of stress or illness. Students have also reported, if they should stop attending meetings with their counsellor or tutor, it is rare anyone will check in to make sure they are okay.

If students and/or their families are expected to contribute financially as individuals, I would hope the universities would treat them as an individual, and support them and guide them through the resources available, rather than leaving students to be lost in a sea of up to 40,000 others.

Jennifer Hamilton is a local student and writer.

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