Calgary

Parents and students fret as all Alberta scholarship applications put on hold

Students heading to university in Alberta in September may not be able to rely on provincially funded scholarships to pay tuition or housing, as the entire scholarship application system has been put on hold until late fall.

Rutherford Scholarship among others not accepting applications until late fall

All applications for 2019-20 provincial scholarships in Alberta are on hold until fall. (David Bell/CBC)

Read the latest: Rutherford Scholarship applications open, but other scholarships still on hold until late fall

The original article appears below.


Students heading to university in Alberta in September may not be able to rely on provincially funded scholarships to pay tuition or housing, as the entire scholarship application system has been put on hold until late fall.

Lisa Young, a political scientist at the University of Calgary and mother to a recent high school graduate, drew attention to the issue on Twitter.

She wrote that applications for one provincially funded scholarship, the Rutherford Scholarship, had been set to open Aug. 1.

When she checked back on Sunday to open the application, the website stated all 2019-2020 scholarship applications would be available in late fall instead of early August.

"Work is well underway on a major technology upgrade to streamline the application and payment process for scholarships and awards. We are working hard to get it up and running, and expect the system to be operational in late fall," the website reads.

Student loan applications were still available.

UCP replies day later, but questions still remain

A government spokesperson responded one day later to CBC News' questions, stating the scholarship had not been cancelled.

"The technology upgrade in question began in 2018," Laurie Chandler wrote in an email.

"Students typically apply for scholarships and awards after August 1 and receive a payment in late October and again in the spring. We recognize that students and families are eager to apply. We hope to have an update to the website very soon."

Demetrios Nicolaides, advanced education minister, tweeted the same points verbatim minutes after Chandler responded.

A follow up question, "Why did the notice on the website only show up this week? Parents told CBC News that two weeks ago the website still said applications would open August 1," has yet to be answered.

Some on Twitter also had questions about the timing.

School counsellor Beth Allan asked in a tweet why people weren't told earlier.

"Why were schools and school counsellors not told about it to help better plan and budget with students and families? You know how I know school counsellors weren't told about it? Because I am one."

Teacher and NDP supporter Aaron Fitchett added his thoughts.

"Massively profitable corporations in Alberta didn't have to wait for a provincial budget to get a huge tax break, but students who've worked exceptionally hard for scholarships and awards must now hold their breath to see if their government supports them?" Fitchett tweeted.

Millions in scholarships given out each year

The Alexander Rutherford Scholarship has provided funding to thousands of Alberta students each year for decades and is largely considered guaranteed money for students in the province that are able to maintain high marks.

Students can receive up to $2,500 from the Rutherford Scholarship if they maintained an average of at least 75 per cent in any year of high school, with the maximum awarded to those who kept an average above 80 per cent for grades 10, 11 and 12.

It's just one of dozens of scholarships that are on hold.

"The Alexander Rutherford scholarship has been around for so long, it's a rite of passage," Young said.

Kaitlin Carter was counting on the scholarship to apply toward tuition for her first year at the University of Lethbridge.

She's eligible for the full $2,500.

"Finding out about this delay was kind of a scramble for us, thinking about what that might entail," Carter said.

She works two jobs and has received two other scholarships to help with tuition, but says she would have delayed moving out on her own had she known applications were on hold.

"It's kind of disappointing. This scholarship's been running for decades and now suddenly I've got to wait."

There are probably tens of thousands of students that are expecting to be able to apply this month.- Lori Harasem, mother to a recent high school graduate

Lori Harasem says one of her sons received the Rutherford Scholarship two years ago, as did her husband when he attended university two decades ago.

So, her younger son Levi Harasem-Mitchell worked extremely hard in high school to make sure he would also receive the money for his first year of post-secondary tuition.

But on Friday, Levi realized that wouldn't be the case when he and his mother, like Young, discovered by chance that applications weren't open — no communication was sent out to students.

"He is very frustrated because he has been looking forward to this for years," the Coalhurst mom said.

"There are probably tens of thousands of students that are expecting to be able to apply this month."

Lori said her son has applied for — and received — other non-provincially funded scholarships so this won't jeopardize his ability to attend school next month.

But for some of his friends, it might.

"I do worry some of them will now not be able to go to school until their other funding reopens which is really unfortunate," she said.

The Government of Alberta's website states all 2019-2020 scholarship applications will not be available until late fall instead of early August. (studentaid.alberta.ca)

Alberta's budget is set to be unveiled in late October, and Lori said she fears this could mean some scholarships will be cancelled.

"By not having this scholarship funding available, out of the blue like this, is going to create quite a hardship for, like I said, quite a few of his friends and their families, I'm sure."

She's written a letter to her MLA to express her concerns and request scholarship applications be reopened immediately, or if not immediately, that the government pay interest on funds students will be delayed in receiving.

The Opposition's advanced education critic David Eggen said Nicolaides must immediately ensure money is delivered to students.

"Students count on this scholarship money to help pay for their post-secondary education," the NDP MLA said in an emailed release on Monday.

Internship program also delayed

Scholarships aren't the only provincially funded student program on hold.

The Serving Communities Internship Program, which provides $1,000 grants to students who complete short internships for non-profit organizations, has been delayed for the 2019-2020 school year.

"We have no further details to provide you at this time," the program's website reads. "We understand the difficulty this may cause program participants and we will provide updates here as soon they become available."

About the Author

Sarah Rieger

Reporter

Sarah Rieger joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2017. You can reach her by email at sarah.rieger@cbc.ca.

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