The province says it continues to work through delays in processing Alberta Student Aid applications from the 2020-21 school year that were put under review, but there are still at least 1,500 left — and many students have already completed their programs.
Back in March, students began reporting instances of delayed disbursement of student aid funds. In April, CBC News learned that thousands of student applications that had initially been approved had since been put under review.
That meant none of them were receiving any of the student aid funds they'd previously been promised, and neither were the institutions they were enrolled with.
"I'm stressed out because I don't know what to do anymore … I cannot afford to pay it from my own pocket, the tuition," Qcom College of Technology student Michelle Duka said at the time.
16% increase in applications
In an August interview with CBC News, Alberta's Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said there was a 16 per cent increase in applications for student aid last school year.
"I think we need to take a closer look at what's driving the increase," he said.
"I think as part of the pandemic there could be a higher proportion of people who are going back to reskill and retrain looking for different opportunities. Also, I would imagine, you know, the shift to an online environment may be contributing to the increase in applications."
Nicolaides said even though many applications had been given approval for student aid, roughly 5,000 out of about 120,000 applications were eventually identified as needing further review.
1,500 remain under review
"We've wrapped up the vast majority of them," he said. "There is approximately 1,500 left to process. The team has been working really hard and through the challenges of the pandemic."
The minister said of those that were reviewed, the majority have ultimately been cleared.
"There's no issues, and funding has been or will be delivered, if it hasn't been, very shortly," he said.
"I understand their frustration. But I also ask and thank them for their patience because given the … significant increase in applications … it's made the process a little bit more challenging."
The province said it does not track the number of applications that changed status due to the review process.
"I would say maybe 10 to 15 per cent may not proceed due to incomplete data or another environment where funding may not be provided, if the data is contradictory, and then, of course, that raises a question," he said.
Denied applicants have 60 days to appeal
In an email, Qcom student Alma Samson said she was one of those denied after initially being approved for funding.
Samson completed her medical assistance program in the spring but was told in August that following a review she was ineligible.
"A missing information letter was emailed to your Alberta Student Aid account requesting you provide supporting documentation to verify the information provided on your application," reads and email from Alberta Student Aid. "Our records show that you provided some but not all of the information that was requested."
It goes on to say that as a result, she was ineligible, and any funding that had not been provided would be cancelled.
Samson and other denied students were informed they had 60 days to request a review of the decision.
"The agent told me that I have to re-upload again my documents with the birth certificate of my child and write a letter to review my application. But they have no assurance if the SA will be approved or not," said Samson.
Nicolaides said he doesn't anticipate these delays affecting student aid disbursements this year.
"I don't anticipate students to see major disruptions coming into the upcoming academic year. It should be pretty close to back-to-normal environment in terms of our operation."