This single mom applied for her OSAP funding months ago. As classes begin, she's still waiting
Amy Wesselink turned her life upside down so she could head back to school this month, but a delay in her Ontario student funding has her worried she's going to have to drop out with nearly $8,000 in tuition fees coming due.
A hairdresser and a single mom of four, Wesselink says her income sank amid COVID-19 public health measures. So she returned to school in 2020 to pursue a degree at the University of Toronto that she hoped would build a better future for herself and her children.
When the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) started taking applications in May of this year, Wesselink applied right away. But more than 13 weeks later, she's still waiting.
"I'm questioning whether I should go forward with the school year," said Wesslelink. "I don't know even if I'm getting funding. I don't know my amount. I don't know when I'm receiving it."
Wesselink isn't alone. Multiple students have contacted CBC Toronto saying they've waited weeks longer than in past years for news of their OSAP applications or to receive the money, and many are still waiting.
In 2020 and 2021, the first two years of her Indigenous studies major, Wesselink received her funding in August. But now, with her classes about to begin, she has no way to pay the $7,800 tuition. She says she's contacted everyone from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to OSAP to her school's enrolment department, but has been offered no solutions.
"I've done everything I'm supposed to do. I've submitted everything. I did it early. You just have no recourse. There's nobody that can give you answers," she said.
She's arranged child care and reduced her work schedule so she can attend in-person classes, all adding to the costs she's already shouldering to continue her education.
Azi Afousi, president of the College Student Alliance, a provincial advocacy organization, says while it's not occurring in all cases, she's hearing of some students who've been waiting upwards of 12 weeks.
"I have never heard of OSAP delays at this level. I have never heard of so many students coming to student associations and financial aid offices with complaints about OSAP delays," she said.
The organization has contacted the province but hasn't gotten any real answers, Afousi says.
Ministry denies backlog
The Minister of Colleges and Universities, Jill Dunlop, denies any significant backlog exists.
"I can assure students that money is going out the door," she told CBC Toronto.
She does say there are certain situations that require additional review by staff and that is being conducted in a timely manner.
The ministry is also encouraging concerned students to reach out to their school's financial aid offices or check the OSAP website.
For its part, the National Student Loans Service Centre, which disburses the money to students, also says it's not experiencing a backlog.
"We are not aware of general delays at the provincial level to process files or at schools to confirm enrolment," the centre said in an email. "It is, however, possible that some schools may be slower than others to confirm student enrolment."
But the University of Toronto says the process is proceeding normally this year.
"The majority of our students have already had their loans confirmed and funds distributed. We continue to process loans on a daily basis as we receive them," a U of T spokesperson told CBC Toronto in an email Thursday evening.
None of that is any comfort to students who are still waiting as classes begin and more expenses pile up.
Bella Mackenzie, a first-year nursing student at Durham College, says while her OSAP application was recently approved, she doesn't have the money yet. She says her books cost nearly $1,000 and other costs are leaving her stressed.
"I was counting on this money, even to be able to pay for my textbooks, and now I have to pay for them out of pocket until I get that money, which can take up to six weeks," she said.
After speaking to her financial aid office, Durham College is giving her a grace period to pay her tuition, because it can see from her application the money is coming.
But she worries for those who have no assurance their money is on the way.
'Ministry needs to be more open,' student says
Jessica Urzua, a student at Humber College, spent the whole summer anxiously waiting for news of her application..
On the brink of dropping out and having exhausted all other options, the mom of two recently tweeted at the ministry in a last-ditch effort before throwing in the towel.
After engaging with a ministry staff member through direct messages, her application was processed the next day.
She is encouraging others to reach out in unconventional ways, like she did, to ensure they receive the attention they deserve.
But she says the provincial government should acknowledge the delays are happening.
"I just feel like the ministry needs to be more open with students."