A college student in Grande Prairie was recently awarded $21,470 as a result of incorrect advice she received from a college advisor, setting an important precedent for student advising.
Heather Crerar successfully sued the Grande Prairie Regional College in March after she received news from the University of Lethbridge that she had been denied admission into their music education program. She was advised to take certain university transfer courses while at GPRC, but learned the advised courses did not satisfy the U of L's entry requirements.
Currently attending the U of L as an honours student with a GPA of 3.9, Crerar was pleased with the ruling of the small claims court.
"I'm very happy with the result. It was a moral issue as well as a monetary issue," Crerar told the Grande Prairie Herald-Tribune outside the courthouse. "I don't want them doing this to any [other] students in the future."
Crerar testified that as a result of advice she received, she had to take an extra semester of courses and attend two sessions of summer school to attain the correct courses.
Crerar also told court that several courses she was told to take didn't count towards the U of L program she was transferring into. One course did not count for full credit, and one course she took at GPRC was not recognized by the U of L and had to be re-taken there.
"I only see the advising as the reason my program was extended," testified Crerar. "I had to pay for tuition and books for another two semesters. At the same time I had to do the extra work involved."
Justice Gary Mitchell ruled GPRC had breached its "duty of care" to provide Crerar with sound advice in regards to her course selection.
"She received advice and acted on the advice to her detriment," Mitchell told the Herald-Tribune. "I can't put her year back together again, or give it back to her."
The defense argued that course-selection is ultimately the student's responsibility, but conceded that students "may rely heavily on advice given by advisors."
Mitchell also said messages encouraging students to ask advisors for help are included thro- ughout GPRC lit- erature and that Crerar had good reason to beli- eve the advice she received was truthful.
GPRC was contacted but could not be reached for comment.
Crerar noticed discrepancies between the two sets of requirements, and questioned the college's advice but was advised to take the courses anyway. As a result she filed a grievance but it was dismissed. An appeal was also turned down. Her last resort was the courts.
The $21,470 claim nearly fulfilled the small claims court maximum of $25,000 and included compensation for the extra semesters Crerar had to take, as well as time she spent at school when she could have been working.
University of Calgary Stud- ents' Union Vice President Academic Demitrios Nicolaides said this is an important case for Albertan post-secondary students.
"I think that it would most definitely catch the ears of some advisors and some university administration, [and would help] in ensuring that the advice that they're giving out is correct," said Nicolaides. "This [ruling] can give students here, or at any other university, motivation to take similar action."
Nicolaides noted that the SU is working with the Academic Advising Coordinating Committee to define the roles and responsibilities of both students and advisors to prevent a similar incident from happening at the U of C.
"I think the main role of the advisor is implied in the title; to give advice, hopefully sound advice, to the student or whoever is seeking it," said Nicolaides. "If they can't answer your questions, [their] other responsibility is that they know who to direct you to."
U of C Associate VP Student Affairs Dr. Peggy Patterson was contacted but could not be reached for comment.
The GPRC will appeal the decision, but is waiting for court transcripts before deciding on which grounds.
Crerar was contacted but was advised by her lawyers not to comment until the appeal concludes.