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October 26, 2000 The brutal truth: Students need more money



by Barbara Black

Concordia students are truly disadvantaged when it comes to financial support.

Roger Côté, Director of Financial Aid and Awards, says that our undergraduate students are getting only about one-third of the scholarships and bursaries provided to the average Ontario university student.

The assertion is based on a 1996 comparison between the private aid given to Ontario and some Quebec universities with the financial aid available at Concordia. While the data is four years old, Côté said that the current picture is not likely to be brighter.

Thanks to the recent capital campaign, Concordia’s annual disbursement of scholarships and bursaries has certainly increased — from $389,823 in 1995-96 to $643,525 last year — but Ontario is in the third year of applying provincial legislation that gives 30 per cent of tuition increases back to institutions for student aid.

Many universities in other parts of Canada and in the U.S. give an entrance scholarship to virtually every student, and in-course scholarships abound. At Concordia, only 592 out of 21,877 undergraduates got scholarships or bursaries — a paltry 2.7 per cent!

“About 700 applied for entrance bursaries, but only 25 could be given,” Côté said sadly. When it comes to aid for students in the midst of their studies, the story is just as pathetic: 282 in-course bursary recipients out of 900 applicants.

Unlike most other provinces, however, Quebec has kept its tuition a bargain. Students here pay $2,315 for their tuition and fees, and $1,291 for their books and materials.

But it’s the living expenses that are the killer. While students still living with their folks pay about $3,380 for their basic living expenses, students trying to make it on their own have to come up with $11,960 just to get by.

About half the students who attend Concordia are getting some kind of financial aid — in most cases, a student loan. Côté’s office has averaged expenses and likely revenue from earnings and student aid, and it shows a likely shortfall of $3,464. In other words, the average student not only incurs debt, but can’t even meet current expenses.

These students are getting some relief from the federal government’s Millennium Scholarship Fund. Quebec took issue with this incursion into its jurisdiction over education, and the wrangling went on for a year. Eventually a formula was worked out whereby half the money allocated to Quebec went for education infrastructure. The other half went toward lowering the loan levels by about $1,000 for student loan recipients.

Still, for many, it’s a desperate situation. “It’s hard to see promising students leave our office empty-handed,” Côté said. “We know that if they interrupt their education, there’s a chance they won’t come back.”

The answer is to increase our appeals to individuals and corporations who can help. And that appeal, say the fundraisers, has to be spread around as widely as possible. A small handful of generous donors can’t do it all alone.