Disruptions caused by COVID-19 are being blamed for delays in some Red River College students’ ability to access student financial aid.
The college says about 230 of nearly 1,700 applications were affected after a higher-than-usual volume of information caused the data entry process to be overloaded, at both Red River College and the Manitoba Student Aid program.
Changes in program start dates and course times for the fall session due to the pandemic led to the information overload, the college says.
“Program start dates and course times were changed and staggered more than usual this fall,” said Red River College director of public relations Conor Lloyd in an email to CBC News.
He explained the changes were made “to achieve physical distancing on campus and to ensure the health and safety of those students who are doing hands-on learning in our labs and classrooms.”
About 90 students have yet to see their applications processed as of Friday, he said.
One of those students is Josh Sallows-Harrie, in his final term of the two-year Business Information Technology program.
“Stressful” is how he describes the situation.
Sallows-Harrie submitted his student aid application Aug. 4, and more than a month later he’s still waiting for approval.
“When I inquire to [the college], they respond with ‘We don’t know when it’ll be resolved,'” he said.
Meanwhile, he says his wife was laid off from her job in March and only just returned to work last week.
“We’re waiting for student aid to come in so we could pay for our rent, and we could pay for our two kids in daycare and we could pay for school supplies, and pay for all these things that we didn’t have the money for because she was laid off and because I didn’t have any student aid,” said Sallows-Harrie.
His tuition was due Aug. 31, and on Sept. 1, he says he started getting emails from the college saying he’d start incurring late fees.
“So I’m parenting, trying to go to school and now I’m having to struggle with a pretty severe financial situation where the bills are piling up, right? It doesn’t feel good when you get that notice saying if you don’t pay your tuition, you’re going to start incurring late fees.”
Late fees being waived
Red River College is offering help for the remaining 90 affected students until the problem is resolved.
“In order to help students manage during this uncertain time, RRC is offering flexible payment plans, payment deferrals, and waiving late fees as well,” Lloyd said.
The college will also ensure the students have access to all their course materials and books, he said.
“We also have a program whereby students facing financial hardships can apply for loans up to $1,000 or access to various bursaries and awards,” he added.
As of Friday, Sallows-Harrie says he still hasn’t received any financial aid, but he says the college did offer him a $500-dollar, one-time emergency loan.
The provincial student aid program provides loans, grants and bursaries to students who need them.
Manitoba Student Aid is working to get financial aid to the affected students as quickly as possible, a provincial spokesperson said in a statement to CBC News.
“Every year, each institution needs to provide their program information for the new school year,” the statement said.
“From time to time, programming changes are made and information needs to be updated which can lead to delays. It is our understanding that Red River College is working closely with affected students on the timing of their tuition payments to avoid any penalties.”
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