Calgary college students left waiting months for thousands of dollars from Alberta Student Aid

·4 min read
Students in Qcom College's medical office assistance program pose for a photo. Some who applied for student aid and were approved in September say they're still waiting for funding and the program ends next month. (Submitted by Michelle Duka - image credit)
Students in Qcom College's medical office assistance program pose for a photo. Some who applied for student aid and were approved in September say they're still waiting for funding and the program ends next month. (Submitted by Michelle Duka - image credit)

A group of students from Calgary's Qcom College of Technology say that after being approved for student aid by the province months ago, they still haven't received a penny of their promised funding for living and tuition — and their account statuses have recently changed from approved to under review.

After losing her job because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle Duka decided to enrol in QCT's medical office assistance program. Knowing she couldn't afford the program out of pocket, Duka said she applied for provincial student aid at the end of last summer.

"In just a couple of days, my application got approved. It said my first disbursement would be released on Sept. 10 and then the rest will be released on Jan. 1," she said.

"Seeing my application had been approved and they hadn't asked me for any other documents, I continued pursuing my program."

Student aid funds still not disbursed

September came and went.

And then January, and then March.

Now, as the end of April draws near, Duka and at least seven of her classmates who spoke with CBC News have yet to receive their student aid disbursements worth tens of thousands of dollars, and their program finishes at the end of next month.

Over the months, the students say they've all reached out to Student Aid, which until changing the students' online profiles to "under review" last week hadn't provided any updates or information.

"The stress is overwhelming," said Duka. "I don't have that extra money to pay for my tuition.… I'm now thinking that my time and effort that I put into this program will go to waste."

Students under emotional and financial stress

Duka's classmate Cyrine Oppus Bation said that when her online student aid account switched from approved to under review, she didn't get any further information.

Michelle Duka says her student aid application was approved Sept. 9, 2020, but she has yet to receive a single payment.
Michelle Duka says her student aid application was approved Sept. 9, 2020, but she has yet to receive a single payment. (Submitted by Michelle Duka)

Not having access to the funds that Oppus Bation was expecting to get her through has meant she's had to borrow money, including to pay for a first-aid course required by the school.

"And some of my bills, too," she said.

If the file reviews continue, Oppus Bation said she is worried the school will come back to students demanding tuition.

"My tuition is $10,500. How am I going to pay that?"

Classmate Maricel Quiambao said she's fed up with the lack of communication from the province.

"They always say that it is under review or pending and on hold. As a student, I'm very frustrated and disappointed," she said. "Is it me or is the school under review?"

Standard quality assurance review

Students said the school has advised students to be patient.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for QCT said the college is aware of the issue.

"Student Aid has started to move on files as of this week and has swamped us," the email said.

The school did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.

Advanced Education, which is responsible for Alberta Student Aid, also declined multiple interview requests.

It said the delay in funding is because of a standard quality assurance review that is performed on student loan files to "ensure the appropriate funding is being dispersed."

"The standard review is applied to all applications, regardless of the institution," wrote the ministry's press secretary, Taylor Hides, in an email.

"When there is a quality assurance flag on a student's application, which can be the result of missing or conflicting information, we will pause for review to ensure all student information has been submitted correctly."

Hides said Advanced Education is working with the college and students.

"We know that these funding delays unfortunately cause challenges for some students, and we apologize for any inconveniences they cause," she said. "However, we must do our due diligence to ensure that taxpayer funding is being correctly dispensed and that all necessary information is on file."

In early March, CBC news reported that a glitch in the province's system had left hundreds of students waiting on student aid money. Hides said that glitch was corrected and this situation is unrelated.