MONTREAL -- Universities have been announcing plans to move classes online this fall, but there’s another question, too: how many students will still be taking those classes.

A recent survey suggests that a third of Cegep and university students are considering dropping out, adding to the potential long-term fallout of the COVID-19 era.

“Students who defer will [later] have to face an enrolment year where there will be more competition getting into university,” said Adam Dube, McGill’s director of technology and learning.

Students who postpone school, if they manage to return, will be up against all the other students who deferred, plus a future incoming class.

Online class is not popular among students, with around three-quarters saying they’re worried it will create a poor learning environment next fall, according to the new survey, which was conducted by the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students.

But some Montreal students also say many classmates have a different, very serious reason for considering withdrawing—many can’t justify the cost of tuition considering their new financial stresses.

“We started handing out emergency funds to students,” Eduardo Malorni, speaking on behalf of the Concordia Student Union, told CTV News.

The student union is hearing a lot of students say that “I can’t pay rent, I can’t pay food,” he said. “We have a grocery fund.”

The survey found that 70 per cent of students said their summer job plans had been negatively affected by the pandemic. 

Montreal’s universities and colleges have all prepared their students to go online in the fall, including McGill, Concordia, Dawson College and the Université de Montreal, and many say course loads will be reduced. Tuition, however, will not, according to the universities’ latest announcements.

Universities should rethink that, said Emma Walsh, a student at McGill’s law school.

“I think the financal impact is top issue that should be on the minds of university administration. Students are their primary customer, if you think about it in business terms,” she said.

“The impact of this is going to be extremely detrimental and many students now are stuck in leases, myself included.”

Students will respond if given some flexibility on those costs in the short term, said David Robinson of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

“If there could be some tuition waivers, some tuition relief, with the provincial and federal governments chipping in...those students that say they might not go back are much more likely to go back if they can do it in a cost-effective way,” he said.