Hey Ryerson: where’s our OSAP funding?

For the second consecutive year, four words have been sending Ryerson students into anxious fits.

“School must confirm enrolment.”

Those are the words that appear on one’s personal Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) homepage when they have filed all their required paperwork, but still require confirmation from a post-secondary school that they are, in fact, a student. And for the second year in a row, that sentence has been letting Ryerson students know their financial aid department has yet to process the applications they filed months ago.

Many of the applications that suffer delays in being processed are ones filed late, and those students should expect what they get. But for the students who filed in May, the fact that they may not have their funding in time to pay tuition isn’t acceptable.

MPP Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, said there are plans to implement a policy that prevents universities from charging interest on students when a late payment isn’t the student’s fault, such as in situations where OSAP funding has yet to be received. But that’s in response to schools that place their fee deadlines before the start of the semester, so it’s unclear how such a policy would apply when it’s the school that’s holding up the process after OSAP has cleared all funds to be released to the student’s bank account.

What Ryerson does do well is giving students a one-month period following the start of the semester where interest is not charged for unpaid fees. Even though that fails to cover other aspects of student living — textbooks, food, Toronto-level rent cheques — it seems that it would be at least a start on a solution to the problem. But with these delays happening two years in a row, it seems that grace period is as much for Ryerson’s financial aid department as it is for students. And the fact that many students were still without funding after that grace period had passed shows that the school abused the extension it was given.

Because of this, Ryerson is forcing students to pay extra money for a delay that’s out of their hands. There can be speculation on the number of students affected, but it’s certainly not zero, and the university placing itself in this situation is not an ethically sound place to be.

It’s hard to find the source of the problem. Staff working the financial aid office, usually two or three people working a line that stretches out the door and around the corner, greet every student’s concern with a helpful and courteous demeanour. They know they are backlogged. They are moving as fast as they can.

But whatever the cause, or whomever is to blame, this type of delay is inexcusable. The school was unprepared for a problem it had before and did nothing to learn from the lessons of last year, when the same difficulties plagued the department.

On Sept. 30, many students received a lecture outside of the classroom when, burdened by the prospect of paying for rent and tuition without the funding they were told they would have, they placed a desperate call to their parents for help and were told about the importance of being prepared for situations like this and financial responsibility.

Maybe someone at Ryerson needs to hear a lecture about responsibility and being prepared, too.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on October 9, 2013.

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