Why Alberta Student Aid delays in scholarships are worrying some university students
By Noel Harper, Contributor
Post-secondary institutions across Alberta, including Mount Royal University, are working through a delay in granting scholarships to students. This is due to an ongoing “technology upgrade” that Alberta Student Aid is currently working on, according to the province’s Minister of Advanced Education, Demetrios Nicolaides.
Nicolaides brought this upgrade to light in response to concerns over the Alexander Rutherford Scholarship — an award of up to $2,500 based on high school marks — being put on hold. Applications for the scholarship were opened soon after, but dozens of others continue to be delayed.
The Rutherford scholarship is one of four in Alberta that is noticeably late to arrive. The others include the Jason Lang Scholarship, which is given to all students over a certain GPA based on course load, as well as the Jimmie Cordon Athletic Scholarship and the Louise McKinney Scholarship, for those studying outside of Alberta.
“We have been told that all applications will be available late fall. Please check back with us at the end of September,” an email response from the Mount Royal Financial Aid office read in part.
Lynette Runions, Manager of Student Awards and Financial Aid at Mount Royal, says the government has been working on this upgrade, in one form or another, since 2015.
“They’ve been trying to streamline them, and make them better and easier for students, and easier for the institutions to administer … so they’ve been working on their whole suite of awards,” Runions says.
Having worked at Mount Royal for nearly 20 years, Runions has not seen an upgrade of this stature before.
“This is the first time in many, many years … that they’ve actually taken a really good look at their scholarships,” Runions says. “Most of the schools are getting systems that can do things quicker and get better information out … they really did need to look at improving their system and improving their technology.”
The exact nature of the government’s upgrade and its timeline haven’t been revealed in detail to the student aid office, Runions explains, adding that, “They’re not saying too much other than it’s coming, and it’ll be later.”
These awards are usually available to students in August close to when the issue with the Rutherford Scholarship was brought up with the government.
It means that these scholarships cannot be used to help pay tuition in the fall semester, even under normal circumstances. Despite this, expectant students are becoming worried as they wait for the upgrade to complete.
“I know it’s concerning for students because they don’t know. And I know a lot of students, especially with the Jason Lang … are thinking ‘I met that criteria, I should get that,’” Runions says of the response to the delay from Mount Royal students.
The university gathered students’ records through a Mount Royal-specific application for the Jason Lang scholarship and other awards — a new system introduced last year in anticipation of this delay. Because of this, funds should not be delayed further than the government will allow.
“We have all the information and we’re ready to go, as soon as they tell us it’s time to go and tell us what any of the changes might be.”
Mount Royal University offers more than $3 million in scholarships and bursaries through hundreds of awards annually. Nearly two thousand students receive the Jason Lang Scholarship, and 65 are given the Louise McKinney Scholarship each year.