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Lethbridge post-secondary schools see spike in demand for financial aid during COVID-19

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WATCH: Both Lethbridge post-secondary institutions say they're dealing with an unprecedented demand for financial support from their students. Taz Dhaliwal finds out how the schools are supporting the need – Jan 19, 2021

Officials at Lethbridge post-secondary institutions say they had to react quickly to make emergency funding available to students heading into the fall semester due to an unprecedented demand for support caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donors have stepped up to help both post-secondary institutions in the city, with funding coming from various sources.

For the college, sources such as the Ready to Rise bursary, the Lethbridge College Students’ Association (LCSA), and even college employees through both the Pay it Forward 50/50 fund and a Dash for Cash at the college’s virtual holiday party contributed.

The Alumni Engagement Office, through both the TD Insurance Meloche Monnex alumni matching gift program and a Coca-Cola affinity partnership, along with institutional dollars, have also added to the emergency fund.

“Most years we give out I think $20,000 to $50,000 in emergency bursaries,” said Linda Sprinkle, manager of student awards and funding with the Lethbridge College.

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“This new push and the contributions from the community have allowed us to expand that to $200,000.”

Additionally, Sprinkle says there is a correlation between CERB ending and the uptick in the demand for financial aid the school is seeing.

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The college says student requests for emergency funding increased by more than 100 per cent from fall 2019 to fall 2020, with COVID-19 being a major factor.

The pandemic and public health measures implemented to help slow the spread of the virus affected the employment of many post-secondary students who rely on part-time or seasonal jobs to finance their education.

“For the students who applied for these bursaries, receiving them is often the difference between being able to continue their educational journey and having to drop out,” said Dr. Paula Burns, Lethbridge College president and CEO in a statement.

“Financial security dramatically affects mental health and wellness, so it was important that we found a solution to help our students.”

The University of Lethbridge is also experiencing a similar situation.

“In these unique circumstances, our community has really banded together to provide even more support,” said Mark Slomp, executive director of student services.

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“In the fall, for example, we raised funds to create a new emergency bursary and we had over 120 donors step up,” he said.

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The college isn’t seeing an uptick in the usage of its food bank, with many students living off campus, but the university is witnessing the opposite.

“Food insecurity has always been an issue I think in post-secondary in general, but, yes the pandemic has certainly made that need larger,” said Jonathan Diaz, president of the Students’ Union at the university.

“At the beginning of this year there was a huge uptick in requests and usage of our food bank.”.

Diaz goes on to say the union was able to fundraise thousands more in 2020 than in 2019, in order to help meet the growing needs of students.

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The university says nearly $11,000 was raised to support the ULSU Food Bank in the Pass the Hat campaign. Among the donors were the uLethbridge Board of Governors, the Senate, General Faculties Council and other governance groups.

“Further to their donations, employees, alumni and community members gave generously as well to help ensure our students don’t go hungry.”

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Eden Bartlett, vice-president of operations and finance with LCSA at the college says students were already worried about an increase in tuition prior to the pandemic.

“I think one of the biggest concerns has been tuition going forward. Is it going to keep rising? Are there going to be more jobs for students?” she asked.

“I think everyone is feeling the stress right now,” Bartlett said.

The prospect of job hunting is also another contributing factor to the anxieties students are felling, however it is something both institutions are working diligently to help mitigate.

The university says when it comes to helping students transition from an academic experience to a professional career, it offers streamlined work-integrated learning (WIL), experiential learning and co-op opportunities, which have been quite popular among the student body.

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“There are a lot of resources that are available online for our current students and our recent graduates,” explained Lindsay Workman, associate dean of Student Affairs with the Lethbridge College.

“So, we offer individualized career coaching, virtually and over the phone, we have a career development coordinator who meets with students,” she said.

Workman says the school is encouraging students to be flexible and adapt to the uncertain times, adding that may involve looking for a short-term job, rather than a career position for some.

She says many are simply trying to survive and pivot in order to overcome these unprecedented obstacles.