So, I’m currently watching the sun set in Montreal, Quebec after the first day of the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. It’s the first time OUSA has ever been to this conference, which is taking place at the downtown campus of Université du Québec à Montreal (UQAM). The conversations have been focused on how student financial assistance offices can improve service delivery and ensure that funding goes to the students that need it. These conversations have been particularly poignant set against the backdrop of a city now partly characterized by student concern over educational costs.
Indeed, no student relishes a trip to the student financial assistance and awards office. A variety of surveys, including OUSA’s own, have shown students tend rank these offices more neutrally in terms of satisfaction, when compared to other student services. However, though student concerns over cost may be high and the financial assistance system might be daunting for students and families to navigate, things are getting better.
Little by little, governments across the country and student financial aid administrators are working together to improve service delivery for students. One session today, hosted by Noah Morris and Maira Mellas from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, highlighted this well. This year, Ontario students will no longer be required to fill out multiple loan agreements over the course of their program, wait in bi-annual OSAP pickup lines or grapple with cheque-based payments for certain grant programs. More of the process is being moved online and more electronic exchanges of information are happening between institutions and OSAP. Though these changes may not spark national headlines or high-profile attention, they will improve the student experience with assistance programs.
Non-governmental actors are in attendance at the conference as well. A morning presentation from Suzanne Tyson of studentawards.com on employment highlighted that perceptions of post-secondary finance shifted quite dramatically between generations. Whereas a majority of surveyed Grade 12 students believed that they would need to take on some degree of employment in-study, just over a third of their parents believed that they would need to. Given that tuition has increased nearly $4,000 in constant dollars in just twenty years, in addition to the rising costs of living expenses, textbooks and ancillary fees, students are facing a more expensive future than ever before. If parents are not fully aware of the costs, as well as the tools to meet those costs, students will not be able to utilize financial assistance in the most effective way possible. This is particularly true when one considers that parents tend to be the most frequently used source of information for students on the subject of financial assistance.
After an engaging day, I’m eager to get back to our members to see how we can contribute further to the betterment of student financial assistance in Ontario.
Director of Research, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance