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Rutherford Scholarship applications on hold, Alberta students left with financial uncertainty

Are you or your child relying on the Rutherford Scholarship to attend college or university this year in Alberta?. Muharrem öner / Getty Images

Students heading to college in September have been left scrambling to find other ways to pay tuition, as a “major technology upgrade” to the province’s student aid system means scholarship applications are delayed until late fall.

A statement on the Alberta Student Aid website says all 2019-20 scholarship and award applications will be available in late fall instead of early August, due to the province streamlining the application and payment process.

“The technology upgrade in question began in 2018,” said a statement from Ministry of Advanced Education spokesperson Laurie Chandler.

“Students typically apply for scholarships and awards Aug. 1 and receive a payment in late October and again in the spring.”

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While there are dozens of scholarships and awards that Alberta students cay apply for, the most well-known is the Alexander Rutherford Scholarship. It has been awarded to Alberta high school students carrying on to post-secondary for several decades.

Students can earn between $300 and $2,500, depending on their marks in Grade 10, 11, and 12. Students who have maintained an average of at least 75 per cent are eligible, with those achieving more than 80 per cent earning a higher amount.

Typically, students could expect to see their Rutherford scholarship payments arrive in September. On Monday, the province stressed it has not been cancelled.

It’s just one of dozens of scholarships that are on hold, and one educator said there was never anything sent to schools that mentioned the timeline changes.

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Global News spoke with an Alberta high school counsellor who wasn’t authorized by their school board to speak out, but felt it was important to share how the changes affect thousands of students.

“Of all of them, the Rutherford is the big daddy and is probably 99 per cent of what the Alberta scholarships program deals with,” they said, adding that while some of the dozens of scholarships available may apply to a few kids in each school, the Rutherford could apply to hundreds per school depending on the size.

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They said that hearing applications are on hold is a mess that could have been avoided if educators had known about it back in May or June, when school was still in session.

“Counsellors from the high schools are on vacation, and most post-secondary advising people are also either on vacation or on very limited hours,” they said.

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The counsellor said they provided their students with personalized documents outlining important dates and deadlines, and now it’s skewed.

“For many of the kids who really relied on the Rutherford, these are our lower-income families. These kids might be the first in their family going to post-secondary, etc.

“They’re being asked to sort out something that they might not have the skills to handle yet, with very little support and even less time.”

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The counsellor said even if they went into work now to try and help families, “It’s almost impossible to get a hold of people in Alberta Education through the summer to get clarification on what this means for kids.”

READ MORE: Alberta teens fight cancellation of ‘cash for credit’ scholarships

The payments could come well after a student’s first tuition deposit is due, the counsellor pointed out.

The University of Alberta requires tuition to be paid by Sept. 30. They will be penalized unless “satisfactory alternate arrangements” are made.

MacEwan University’s payment deadline is Sept. 28, and NAIT requires tuition to be paid by Aug. 14.

Global News has reached out to all three post-secondary institutions to find out if they will be adjusting their deadlines in light of the delay.

“We recognize that students and families are eager to apply,” Chandler said. “We hope to have an update to the website soon.”

Alberta’s opposition NDP called Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides to intervene and fix the situation.

“Students count on this scholarship money to help pay for their post-secondary education,” NDP Advanced Education critic David Eggen said.

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“The Minister of Advanced Education must step in immediately to ensure this money is delivered to the students that have earned it as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, the Student Aid website said students who need financial assistance to support their studies can apply for loans and grants.

READ MORE: Need cash for university? How to budget and where to find free money

The Alexander Rutherford Scholarship is named after Alberta’s first premier and minister of education.

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