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January 24, 2002 Help is at hand: Line-ups move quickly at Financial Aid



by John Austen

It just may be the most popular spot on campus during the first two weeks of the winter term. From Jan. 7 to 21, the Financial Aid and Awards Office at Concordia is full of students applying for or picking up loans. Many of the students are in dire straits, seeking what is commonly known as “emergency aid.”

“Sometimes there may be a delay in processing loans, so students come to us for temporary advances,” explained Brenda Brisson, who is the coordinator of client services.

“We know that emergency situations arise. People have to pay their rent, buy groceries and pay medical bills. We know that money is eventually coming to a particular student, so we have no problem giving advances in most cases.”

In past years, it was common for more than 75 people to be waiting at one time to have their case dealt with at the Financial Aid and Awards Office, in the lower level of the J.W. McConnell library complex. Students would often be lined up in the corridors with waits of more than three hours. “Things are much better this time around,” Brisson said. “We used to be more restricted in our times, but now things are more efficient. We have two lines going now, and people are usually in and out within an hour.”

The day this reporter visited the office, all two dozen chairs in the waiting room were filled with students, with another six or seven outside patiently waiting to get in. All eyes were on a television screen in the corner of the room, watching a movie. Every student was given a card with either A or B‚ on it and a corresponding number. The A line is for general information, verification and application, while the B line is for quick pick-up.

“I hope this won’t take too long,” said Michael, 20, from Toronto, who was last in line outside the office. “I’m supposed to be getting financial assistance, but it’s not ready and I’m not sure it will be before my rent is due (in February). I phoned an advisor and was told to apply for a temporary loan.

“To be honest, I’ve heard horror stories from friends at other universities who camped out all night to make sure they were first in line to get help. It was kind of like a soup kitchen. I’m sure it’s not like that here, though.”

Less than an hour later, Michael emerged from the office with a big smile on his face.

“No problem,” he said, high-fiving this reporter. “I got it. Now I just have to pick up the money. It’s a load off my mind I can tell you.”

Brisson said that while it’s the busiest time of year for the staff in the office, and their normal complement of five front-line staff is down to four, things are going smoothly.

“We aren’t getting many, if any, complaints about the waiting,” she said. “Of all the people coming in daily, probably 30 of them are seeking temporary advances.”

Students are eligible for assistance if they are full-time and registered for 12 credits. For out-of-town students, the minimum is nine credits.

Students who defaulted on their student loans and on whose behalf the Ministère de l’Education du Québec had to repay the financial institution do not qualify for financial assistance under the Loans and Bursaries Program until they have paid back 50 per cent of their student loan debt.

Applications for financial assistance for the 2001-2002 award year or related documents will not be accepted after March 31, except in cases where students can prove that they could not meet this deadline because of circumstances beyond their control.