Covid-19 has not only put a strain on the economy but also posed new financial challenges for students who were unable to work during the school year and summer. Even prior to the pandemic, students who rely on support from the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) were experiencing financial challenges after the provincial government made changes to the program which reduced eligibility and grant amounts.
To help students navigate these concerns, the Michener Institute of Education at UHN has been hosting workshops and webinars to inform students about how OSAP disbursements work and to explore financial aid opportunities.
Michener first began offering workshops through the Student Success Network (SSN) in partnership with National Bank. Representatives from the bank would present on credit scores and the student lines of credit they offer, which are exclusive to Michener’s students and offer excellent interest rates.
“The bank’s student line of credit is a really attractive option for students, especially those who are finding that their OSAP totals they’ve been assessed for isn’t enough to offset their financial costs,” says Aidan Gray, Financial Aid Officer at Michener. As many of Michener’s programs are post-graduate, there are frequently students who have exhausted their weeks of federal or provincial financial aid funding.
In August 2018, Aidan took on the newly created role of Michener’s Financial Aid Officer. While members of the Registrar’s Office had previously split the job of providing financial assistance information to students, this was the first time a role dedicated to that task had been solidified.
Aidan initially began attending the presentations by National Bank to speak on and answer questions about OSAP disbursement periods, as the Registrar’s Office would receive a high volume of these inquiries.
“Students will get about 60 per cent of all their funding in September and then the remaining 40 per cent in January, but many of them don’t realize it’s broken up this way and may not budget correctly,” says Aidan.
In addition to the Scholarships, Awards and Named Bursaries Michener offers annually, the federal government provided additional grant and loan funding for the 2020/21 year.
Michener has also partnered with the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation to accept further donations in light of Covid-19 to the General Bursary Fund that is distributed each semester to students in financial need. Additionally, Michener increased its internal allocation to this fund in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years in response to reductions in provincial financial aid funding levels.
Newly accepted students now receive information regarding financial aid opportunities and deadlines as part of their welcome package, and these resources are discussed in detail during Orientation. Additional workshops are also occurring throughout the Fall semester on Oct. 22 and Nov. 19. Invites will be sent to students through the SSN as the dates approach.
“I think the most important thing is letting our students know there is support available for them,” says Aidan. We’re a small school and we don’t have a large financial aid office, so students may assume there’s no one to help them or may turn to faculty or other students. I want them to know this resource is available.”