By DAVID JOHNSON
SO, WE HEAR this week that 42 potential law students who filed applications with and were actually accepted to Thompson Rivers University’s law program … AND paid a deposit … have now been told months later that their applications are no longer accepted and, if they want to, they could be placed on a waiting list for next year.
That means that 42 people, and their families who were at one time overjoyed by good news, paid their deposit and have followed through with life plans and potentially spent money on the transition if from out of town, have had the rug literally pulled out from under them.
Sure, they will get a refund, but that doesn’t undo the life plans made as a direct result of being accepted. Why did this happen?
Daleen Millard, the Dean for TRU’s Faculty of Law says, “… from an unprecedented number of applications we’ve had an unprecedented number of acceptances.” And, according to a statement from the university, it’s “common for post-secondary institutions to accept more students than seats available …”
Hang on a second … back up a bit.
TRU knowingly accepted 42 more student applications than they had space for and then were surprised when everyone accepted and sent in a cheque.
What this is, is the throwing open to transparency a function of the post-secondary education application and acceptance process for all to see, because this time it didn’t go well.
A quick dive into history shows that in 2015, TRU had to apologize to more than 400 people that had been accepted into its undergraduate nursing program, when they had not. Apparently an “incorrect communication” sent to Bachelor of Science Nursing applicants “resulted from a technical error in a mail merge process in the Admission Office.”
Although that situation was indeed a technical email glitch, one would think that the university would have put crosschecks and standards in place to double check outgoing communications to keep this from happening again, which they may have done. Clearly, this recent instance was not a communications or technical error.
Instead, this looks like an intentional gross over booking of seats. Someone actually made the decision to accept 42 more students than there was room for.
What we are learning is that universities historically have statistics that at one time said that if they send out 42 extra acceptance letters, then among the entire application group about 42 applicants won’t follow up by paying their deposit and completing the enrollment process. This year, 42 unexpected people meant it and want to go to this school.
How do we see this as anything but an institutionally mandated willingness to hang a lot of people out to dry, as long as they actually get a butt into every seat? And if there are amounts over compensated for … they are in the end just numbers … right?
No worries … nothing a dream-crushing, follow-up letter can’t fix.
Now, it’s one thing to over-accept one or two seats, as yes … someone is going to change their mind as September approaches, but it is not unfair to consider that the university needs to be held to account.
Yes, every student takes a chance on application, and they will probably apply at various schools and later decide on which to follow up on. This creates risk for the school. At the same time, it needs to roll the dice that they can fill all the available seats. No doubt, some statistical math is involved regarding how many acceptance letters to send out … it’s basically a crap shoot.
All that said, this is no excuse when the tables turn because you got the demand wrong, but that’s OK … all the university has to do is send out ‘unable to fulfill’ letters. Problem solved.
The question becomes, how many of these students turned down other schools in favour of TRU, and now have nowhere to go at all?
TRU’s willingness to do this shows that they are fine with a bit of bad press over it, but someone there should take personal responsibility. Daleen Millard as well as president and vice chancellor Dr. Brett Fairbairn need to become involved and mandate that department deans and their administrations reconsider how it is done regarding applications and acceptance numbers … as it appears they either have no such rules in place, or at the very least the process algorithm they do have … doesn’t work.
Obviously, none of this can be fixed for the students involved this year, but here’s the real problem that they created — we now have an environment where an accredited university acceptance letter may not be worth more than the paper it is written on.
What in the end is lost … is trust. Think about that, the next time a young person you know sends in an application.
David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self described maven of all things Canadian.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In reaction to this column, TRU spokesperson Todd Hauptman states: “The admissions and enrolment process is always evolving at every post-secondary institution in Canada. When we contacted the students last week, we were over enrolled by 42. As a result of expected withdraws, 26 students were affected in the end. This number is also likely to change over the course of the summer.”