London

With 3 weeks to accept offers, some college students don't know if they have loans

Some students don't know if they've secured their student loan, even though they have just weeks left to accept their offer of admission to Ontario colleges by the May 1 deadline.

Ross Richard, 31, says he'll have to take a 'leap of faith' he'll have money to pay his $6K tuition

An Ontario student holds a placard during demonstrations against changes to OSAP in January of 2019. Critics say the changes made by Ford government will prevent many of them from accessing higher education. (Valerie Ouellet/CBC)

A London, Ont. college student says he must take a "leap of faith" and accept an offer of admission from his college without knowing whether he has secured a loan from the Ontario Student Assistance Program because applications are not yet available on the OSAP website. 

After spending 10 years in the workforce, 31-year-old Ross Richard decided he wanted a pursue a better job. So he took advantage of free tuition offered under the old OSAP system to take a number of general trades courses in order to prepare himself for a two-year program as a renewable energy technician at Fanshawe College. 

In January, the Progressive Conservative government made sweeping changes to the OSAP program, eliminating free tuition for low-income students while cutting tuition fees by 10 per cent across the board for all post-secondary students under the pretense it would make the system more affordable.  

Now, with three weeks to go before the May 1 deadline for Ontario college students to accept their offers of admission, Richard said he still doesn't know if he can actually afford his education.

 He estimates he will need an OSAP loan of about $6,000 to return to school this fall. 

'I'm just going to go on a leap of faith'

Ross Richard (left), 31, has been pooling his resources with his girlfriend Madeleine Brodbeck (right), who is also a student, to make ends meet. (Ross Richard)

"I'm just going to go on a leap of faith," he said. "I don't even know if I'm going to have funding." 

Last year Richard said he was able to apply for funding in February when Ontario college students begin sending their offers of admission to prospective students. 

As of Thursday, he said, he is still unable to apply for a loan. The only indication of when he would be able to start applying for loans is on the OSAP website, which vaguely states "Spring 2019." 

"It would be nice if I had some general idea," he said. "They're not saying anything and it's pretty frustrating." 

'They're causing a lot of anxiety'

A screenshot of the OSAP application website, which states that loan applications are not available with less than a month to go before the May 1 deadline. (Ross Richard)

The Canadian Federations of Students said it appears the province is still scrambling to implement the changes made by the Progressive Conservative government back in January. 

"It really does put students in precarious positions," said Nour Alideeb, who is the chair of the Ontario chapter of the CFS.

"Based on the screenshot that you've sent me, they're waiting to send that email out," she said. "They're causing a lot of anxiety. I think it's unacceptable for the government."

Alideeb said that, behind the scenes, Ontario's post-secondary institution's are struggling to keep up with the changes made by the Ford government. 

"They're under immense stress," she said. "I don't know why this government imagines everything to be pulled out of thin air." 

Nour Alideeb is chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario. (CBC)

A spokeswoman for the province would not answer questions on when exactly Ontario college students will be able to find out whether they would get their loans. 

"The 2019-20 application will be available to students this spring," Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities spokeswoman Tanya Blazina wrote in an email to CBC News. 

"OSAP applications begin to be assessed in early summer after students have submitted all supporting documentation," she wrote. 

"These changes to OSAP, announced in January, will be in place for the 2019-20 school year. OSAP will continue to provide financial assistance, to qualified students in post-secondary studies. It will continue to include grant, loan, bursary, scholarship and other aid programs."

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca