Student aid delays continue for yet another semester

Uncertainty about students’ finances causes at least one student to drop out

Photo by Mohammad Arsalan Saeed, staff

Some post-secondary students in Manitoba have said that they are still facing funding delays and difficulties contacting Manitoba Student Aid (MSA), including one student who was forced to drop out after waiting months for her funds.

Krysten Johnson, a former counselling student at the University of Manitoba, told 680 CJOB that she applied for funding near the start of September.

She said she was informed that she would face delays due to changes in the student aid system, and that she paid much of her tuition with her credit card while she awaited funds.

Johnson said the next time she heard from MSA was in mid-December, when she was told that her application had been approved and that she would receive her funds after Dec. 15. She claims the money never arrived.

She said that she was told on Dec. 23 that her case was being reviewed.

She added that she was unable to reach the MSA office despite numerous phone calls and emails, and that the MSA website has crashed every time she has tried to view her application.

The Manitoban was unable to secure an interview with Johnson.

Other students have also faced difficulties trying to contact MSA or access its website.

Fortune Eboh, deputy chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students Manitoba and University of Winnipeg environmental studies student, called Johnson’s story “very sad” and related it to his own experiences of facing delays, website crashes and uncertainty about the status of his funds.

“It was a situation whereby I had to constantly follow up with my school to let them know that this was a problem,” he said.

“And at some point, I had to deal with financing it on my own while I was waiting for them to kick in.”

Eboh pointed out that these issues have been present for numerous semesters.

“We expected that they are aware of these challenges and they might have put these measures in place to help tackle some of these problems,” he said, “but it seems to be an every-semester issue right now and that has placed students under so much duress.”

He pointed out that students need funds to help them pay not just for tuition, but for basic life expenses such as rent, child care, food, transportation and accessibility needs.

Last summer, the Manitoba government announced that the province’s student aid program would be integrated with the federal aid system to “streamline and simplify” the administration of funds.

Existing provincial loans will be administered by MSA until April, when the National Student Loans Service Centre (NSLSC) will assume control. Students will then only have to take out one loan and make a single monthly payment, rather than the two separate provincial and federal payments required under the current system.

Five other provinces — British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Saskatchewan — have incorporated their provincial loan programs into the NSLSC since 2001. These transitions faced minimal disruption.

In contrast, Manitoban students have had trouble securing funds or getting in contact with MSA consistently throughout this year, facing long delays and dropped calls.

Eboh said that the government needs to “revamp” the student aid system and fix the MSA website so it can handle the amount of traffic it receives.

Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration Jon Reyes declined a request for an interview, but spokesperson for the minister Brant Batters provided a written statement.

“As of January 27, 2023 Manitoba Student Aid has received over 18,900 applications from Manitobans pursuing post-secondary education and 18,524 of these applications have been assessed, which is equivalent to over 97 per cent of all applications received,” the statement read.

The statement explained that “assessed” could refer to applications that require further action from the student to be processed, have been assigned a date for disbursement or that have been completed by students who have already received funds.

The government did not specify how many applications fit into each of these three categories, but said that MSA has resolved the majority of its system issues, and has hired additional staff and authorized overtime to deal with the backlog.

The statement also said that student aid is “meant to supplement, not replace, a student’s own resources,” and encouraged students to talk to their schools if they have concerns regarding tuition deadlines.

“Student aid funding is not intended to fund all living expenses, all tuition, books and supplies,” it read.

Eboh argued that the Progressive Conservative government’s lifting of the tuition cap created an increased need for student aid, which he called “an essential service” for students who face barriers to higher education.

“It is completely unacceptable that the students who are facing the most barriers to access college or university do not have the support in place to help them succeed this term,” he said.

2023/01/31: At time of writing, Jon Reyes was Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration, a position he no longer holds following this week’s provincial cabinet shuffle