by MacKenzie MacDonald
When Laurentian University closed down its Barrie campus in May 2017, more than two hundred students were unable to finish their degree and were forced to make a decision about how they would continue their education.
Eric Chappell was the first Barrie student to transfer to Laurentian’s Sudbury campus.
“I flunked out of college and was really nervous about going back to school” Chappell said.
“I was taking a part-time course load in Barrie, my hometown, because after flunking out of college, I wasn’t in a position financially and my parents were not prepared to support me to go fail out of another institution,” he said. “So, I picked up a couple classes at the local school.”
Chappell found out in February that Laurentian was shutting its Barrie campus, which left hundreds of students unable to finish their education.
“We had all of these students who had been one, two and three years in who now didn’t have a school to go to.”
“We didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, so there was this great panic, and everyone was scared” Chappell recalled.
According to Chappell, Laurentian said that they would be covering the cost for students who wished to transfer to Sudbury’s campus, and sent an academic advisor down to Barrie to explain to students that they were able to live in Laurentian residence and finish their undergraduate degrees.
Chappell explained that as a student with a learning disability and who was taking only a part-time course load, his “immediate concern was that [he] was going to take longer [to finish his degree].”
However, Laurentian agreed to accommodate him and provide the time required in order to complete his undergraduate degree, he said.
“As an older student at that time, I was not prepared to take forever with [my degree], but I couldn’t do a full course load. So, I opted to move in that spring [and] I was the first person from Barrie to transfer to Sudbury.”
Parking pass, meal plan part of original deal with LU, student says
Chappell said he connected with Chris Mercer, Vice President of Student Life, who at the time was responsible for Barrie transfer students.
“When I came here all I had was a room key” Chappell said. “I didn’t know how to find my meal plan [or] how I’d get parking.”
“At that point exactly, what the deal was hadn’t been solidified.”
According to Chappell, he met with Mercer monthly to discuss the best possible way Laurentian could accommodate and transfer Barrie students to Sudbury, which led Chappell to be an advocate for students in his hometown.
“I had to articulate concerns from different areas and it resulted in a standardized accommodation,” Chappell said. “It was residence for the remainder of your undergrad with a meal plan, you get to choose what meal plan you want, and if you have a car you can get a parking pass.”
“By the time we were finished advocating, that was what the institution agreed to.”
While rumours circulated that Barrie students were also offered free tuition for the duration of their undergrad, Chappell said he is unaware of a case where that has happened.
Despite the generous offer that was brought to the table, it did not meet the needs of all Barrie students, specifically mature students with children who required the support of their families remaining in Barrie.
According to Chappell, these were cases that were really sad to see.
“It was heart-wrenching” he said.
“They were the group that was affected the worst. I mean, you can offer [them] this great deal, but they’re physically not able to able to go. They were stuck.”
Third-year Communication student, Leslie Ross, said that many students were unaware of what Barrie transfer students actually went through during this confusing and difficult time.
“We all thought they were getting an easy deal” she said.
“But, if you look at the bigger picture…you can definitely see that they didn’t have it so easy,” Ross said. “I mean, sure, they get free residence and meal plans, but they also have to leave their families, [move] to a new city, start over in a sense. It must be really hard.”
Second-year English major, Melanie Hills, said that as a mother, she understands the struggle of being both a parent and a student.
“I wouldn’t be able to go to school without the support of my family” she said.
“If Laurentian ever shut down their [Sudbury] campus, I wouldn’t be able to go to another [university] because I wouldn’t have the support that I need. I’d be screwed.”