Last week, the Toronto Star reported the results of its investigation that showed the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) has overpaid students by more than $700 million.
I am one of the students who received more money than I should have.
My heart sank last summer when I received my overpayment letter and its order that I repay funds — or else lose my eligibility to apply for funding for my last year of school.
It kept sinking when the National Student Loans Service Centre said there was nothing it could do to help me.
Then it fell into an abyss when the campus financial aid office advised me that appealing wouldn’t be worth it since I can’t claim I didn’t make the extra money that I did — the money which led to me being overpaid.
Granted, I got a summer job last minute and it completely slipped my mind (between working a full-time weekday job and part-time weekend job, living, sleeping, eating, etc.) to update my income with OSAP. I’m not denying that and I take full responsibility for it.
But since being overpaid means a student is no longer eligible to receive further funding until clearing that status, I had only two options: produce the money or drop out.
About to embark on my final year of university, there was no way I was going to drop out. Yet, where was the money going to come from? I spent several sleepless nights staring at my stucco ceiling, panicking.
Since I’m still here and about to graduate, my family and I obviously worked it out. However, the Toronto Star’s story highlighted an important issue that needs to be better dealt with.
The article quotes Tanya Blazina, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, saying that students can appeal their overpayments. I’ve already gone over how that went for me.
Blazina also said that, “OSAP makes every effort to recoup these funds from future payments, or in loan repayments.”
But I guess this doesn’t help the student by reinstating their access to funding, since this option was also a no-go for me.
All in all, I’m not saying that students should be absolved of the responsibility to stay on top of their income and update it through OSAP by the necessary deadlines.
However, there is a serious problem with a system that asks students to repay money they obviously don’t have in the first place.
It’s also concerning that students are receiving mixed messages, depending on who they speak with, on how they can navigate overpayments.
It’s contradictory, confusing and anxiety-inducing to say the least.
Getting through these over-payments (or not) comes at great cost to students. To the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, I ask you to think of the students who had to pay that cost by dropping out of school.
Our province provides some very generous funding. However, these over-payments and the system in place for dealing with them sends a discouraging message that students’ educational attainment can be limited by income and stifled by bureaucracy.