Has Trent gotten too big for Peterborough? Student union president wants a freeze on enrolment growth

Student leaders say the university’s growth is fueling Peterborough’s housing crisis.
Photo shows TCSA president Aimee Anctil standing on the Faryon bridge at Trent University, overlooking the Otonabee River and Bata Library.
Trent Central Student Association president Aimee Anctil said the university “must be held accountable for over-enrolling” while students are suffering from the housing crisis. Photo: Brett Throop

The president of Trent’s undergraduate student union is calling on the university to freeze enrolment growth next year, saying that Peterborough doesn’t have enough housing for more students.

“The housing crisis is critically impacting students,” Aimee Anctil, the newly-elected president of the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA), wrote in an email. “In order to abate the effects of the housing crisis on both Trent students and Peterborough/Nogojiwanong residents, the university must stop increasing the amount of students they are enrolling each year.”

Trent’s student population has swelled by 56 percent in the last decade, reaching 12,649 full-time and part-time students at its Peterborough and Oshawa campuses this year, according to budget documents presented to the university’s board of governors last month.

All that growth has meant more and more students competing for rental housing in Peterborough, which has had the tightest rental market of all major urban centres in Ontario for two years running, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

As a result of the housing crunch, many students are struggling to find an affordable place to live, living in unsafe conditions and experiencing periods of homelessness, Anctil said. According to her, students have been contacting the TCSA on a weekly basis looking for help with housing issues. In one case last fall, a group of international students were forced to sleep in a U-Haul van for several nights after falling victim to a housing scam. “They had applied online to get a house, but it turned out the house didn’t actually exist at all,” Anctil said.

The TCSA has paid out $17,560 to students for hotels, rental deposits and other emergency housing costs since September 2022, she said. The union dispersed an additional $26,650 this academic year through an emergency relief fund, much of which went toward helping students afford the cost of rent and groceries.

A petition by the TCSA, demanding that the university “rise up to the occasion of their enrolment increase” and take “accountability for the housing crisis” has received over 2,400 signatures, according to Anctil.

One fourth-year international student, who asked to remain anonymous, told Currents she had to live in a rental car for a week last January, after the landlord she was renting a room from illegally evicted her.

The student said she parked near campus and went to Trent’s athletic centre everyday to shower.

“When it was getting like really, really freezing, I would turn on the car, put on the heater, and then warm up,” she said. “I felt that I had no help. I had to rely on myself. I couldn’t go to anyone.”

There have been concerns recently about a potential spike in post-secondary student homelessness in Peterborough. The city’s youth homeless shelter stated that four Trent and Fleming students tried to access beds at the start of the school year last September, as Currents previously reported.

Trent’s enrolment growth “responsible,” university says

Despite pushback from the student union, Trent University is planning for a “modest” rise in enrolment next fall, according to the budget report. It projects that enrolment will climb by 2.6 percent, or 306 full-time equivalent students, next year.

But the majority of those new students will go to Trent’s Oshawa campus, the report said. Enrolment in Peterborough is projected to grow by about one percent, to reach 10,261 full-time equivalent students.

Last year, the university enrolled significantly more students than it had planned to. Trent projected an enrolment increase of 2.7 percent last year. But the actual increase ended up being 4.3 percent, a boost that helped drive a $6.9 million surplus for the university.

In a statement to Currents, Trent University acknowledged that both Peterborough and Oshawa face “housing pressures.”

But Trent’s growth has been “responsible,” the statement said, and the university continues to plan for new enrolment in both Peterborough and Oshawa “in a way that prioritizes a supportive learning environment and experience for our students.”

The statement also noted the university has an off-campus housing coordinator to help students find and maintain housing – including support with landlord conflicts and roommate mediation. Trent also participates in Canada HomeShare, a program that matches students in need of housing with older adults with extra space in their homes. Additionally, there is an emergency bursary fund for international students facing “unforeseen challenges,” including homelessness, according to the statement.

Trent also has plans to open a new on-campus residence with as many as 700 beds in 2027, which will help alleviate pressure from the downtown housing market, the statement said.

However, another residence, Otonabee College, is slated to close temporarily around the same time the new one opens in 2027, according to a request for proposals on Trent’s website. Otonabee will undergo a two-year renovation to allow it to accommodate more students once it reopens. That means the full impact of the planned new student housing won’t be felt until at least 2029.

Trent’s plan to direct most new enrolment to its Oshawa campus next year doesn’t satisfy Anctil.

“At the end of the day, all students – undergraduate, graduate, Durham and Peterborough – we are concerned that we are being left behind,” she said. “We are worried that the university is more concerned with maximizing their profit by internationalizing and over-enrolling than the quality of education and student life.”

According to Trent, not meeting its enrolment growth targets could jeopardize some of the provincial funding it receives. “Failure to achieve the established performance targets may result in funding being recovered by the Ministry [of Colleges and Universities] … and may have a compounding impact in future years as students move through multiple years of study,” the budget report states.


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