Higher Education Strategy Associates

Student Aid Ineligibility

Here’s a little-known fact: some Canadians graduating from high school can’t get student loans, even though they have been accepted to a post-secondary institution and have financial need. It’s not because they have a bad credit history, or anything like that: it’s simply because they live in the wrong place. Here’s why.

The Canada Student Loans Program is really only half a program; by design, it sits side-by-side a number of provincial programs. This means that before you can even get assessed for student aid, you need to be assigned a province of origin, so that the system knows which CSLP/provincial combination should do the assessment.

Among provinces who participate in CSLP, this is no big deal: there is a consistent rule that assigns a student to the last province in which they spent twelve consecutive months without attending post-secondary education. But the problem is that not all provinces participate in CSLP; Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have all opted out of the program (with compensation, naturally) to run their own student aid systems.

Quebec is not a problem, since it uses the same 12-month rule as the rest of the country. But in the NWT and Nunavut, it’s a different story. These territories have student financial aid programs that are exceptionally generous, both because most students have high expenses due to travel and because most students are Aboriginal and presumed averse to borrowing. As a result, they have some high barriers to entry – namely, a minimum 24-month residency requirement.

You can see where this is going. Say a family moves from Vancouver to Yellowknife during the summer when their child is going into grade 12. Even if the child successfully finishes grade 12, he or she would not be able to access any public assistance to then go on directly to post-secondary education. Basically, they would be sentenced to kicking around for 12 months until they make the residency requirement. (Lest you think this an outlandish scenario, I’ve actually had the misfortune of counselling someone who was in exactly this position several years ago. Not fun.)

Section 15 of the Charter says the government must offer its services equally to all Canadians, but that’s clearly not what’s happening here. The Canada Student Financial Assistance Act exists to ensure that all citizens can get the funds they need to attend post-secondary education, but the Government of Canada continues to give alternative payments to opted-out jurisdictions without ensuring that all citizens have access to the same services.

The cases of students falling afoul of this rule are probably few and far enough between that Ottawa need not fear a charter challenge. But that doesn’t make it right.

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3 Responses to Student Aid Ineligibility

  1. Rachelle says:

    I wonder if you’d be able to review the PSE funding situation for mature and part-time students as the rules seem to differ for them as well. For example, the 30% tuition rebate in Ontario doesn’t apply to them if I understand correctly. I work with mature students and many are moving heaven and earth to change their lives through PSE. My impression is that this population is overlooked, but maybe I’m missing something.

    • Alex Usher says:

      Hi Rachelle.

      It’s a good idea for a post. I think the short answer is that even if the rules were the same for PT students, they would get almost nothing in aid (b/c the usual reason they are PT is that they are working – and the more income you have, the less aid you get). Mature students are more interesting, I think – the problem there is simply that once they acquire assets and responsibilities it;s difficult for them to go back to living like students the way student aid expects them to. The problem is that making different program rules for people with different ages is legally tricky – the Section 15 implications make the guys at Justice go all squirrelly.

      • Rachelle says:

        I’m sure what you are saying is true in the aggregate. I’m dealing with very low-income folks, often unemployed, often with poor high school records, etc. Folks who are dealing with very tough odds but want to make a change.

        They are really cut out of PSE (at least the expensive, university type) because they can’t afford the tuition to take a course at a time (“Special student”) to qualify for admission to a BA.

        I’ll look forward to a post on this if you can muster one.


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