On Campus

After summer job slump, students seek financial help

At Dal, number of students applying for need-based awards increased by 62 per cent

With summer jobs in short supply, many university and college students now face the prospect of trying to get through the school year on less money or looking for other sources of cash.

So it may not be surprising that along with the spike in the jobless rate, there’s been a corresponding rise in traffic to websites offering information on scholarships and bursaries.

At Studentawards.com, a free scholarship search service, the cumulative increase in registration was 15 per cent in July compared to last year, said Suzanne Tyson, president of Studentawards Inc., the company behind the website.

Parents’ RRSPs and the education savings plans they set up for their children have probably taken a hit amid the economic turmoil of the last year, she noted.

“(Parents) may be losing their jobs and their children aren’t finding jobs, it is leading us to believe that this fall will be difficult financially for a number of students,” she said.

The student unemployment rate was 20.9 per cent in July, according to Statistics Canada.

Matt Scriven is one of the lucky ones.

The 19-year-old was able to find work this summer, but says one of his friends in Vancouver handed out between 30 and 40 resumes and received one or two calls – and didn’t get a job. Another friend in Ottawa handed out 20 or 30 resumes, and got a job that gave him five to 10 hours a week – not really enough to help with his expenses in the coming school year, he said.

Scriven found his own eventual job as web designer for the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association through a listing at Studentopolis.ca – the student jobs website he founded.

The Carleton University student started developing his website after speaking with a friend who said he wasn’t able to find an easy source to access student job listings online.

“A lot of adult workers were laid off their other jobs and now people will do pretty much any job to try and supplement their income because they’ve got families and such, so a lot of students are displaced from positions that they would otherwise have,” Scriven said from Ottawa.

Bursaries and scholarships could potentially help to ease the blow to their bank balances.

Chris Wilkins, president and CEO of EDge Interactive, the company behind ScholarshipsCanada.com, said there has been a 10 per cent increase in web traffic to the site. Registrations and page views are also up.

Both Tyson and Wilkins said there hasn’t been any sign of decreases in the number of financial awards being posted.

In fact, Wilkins said the company has been working with a few individuals new to the scholarship business who have money available and want to help specific groups of students pursuing business-related programs.

“The great thing about scholarships is that it’s full of niche awards,” he said. “There are a lot of high-profile awards, but there are many more niche awards, and those niche awards sometimes can make a big difference, especially if you get two or three of them.”

Tyson said despite the existing awards available, there could always be more funds and there are gaps in the marketplace.

“Now that mature students are going back to school because they’ve lost their jobs, there are fewer scholarships available for them than for students that are coming straight out of high school going to university.”

Post-secondary institutions are also taking extra measures to help ensure cash-strapped students aren’t left high and dry.

The number of students applying for entrance need-based awards to Dalhousie University increased by 62 per cent, said Pamela Swinimer, assistant registrar, financial aid at the Halifax university.

Swinimer said the school’s president has said he will make up any kind of shortfall in their endowment for scholarships and bursaries.

“We have been told that we will be able to spend as we have in our past year.”

There is also an in-course bursary program that will begin in September where Swinimer said she is expecting to see what the real effect of lack of summer employment or parental assistance will be on student finances.

“I certainly have chatted with a few students who have run into those situations, and we’ll have to look at that individually and try and do what we can to come alongside and assist.”

Ryerson University in Toronto made the decision to allocate $800,000 in its 2009-10 budget to ensure money for students on bursaries would continue to flow. Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said a proposal is being taken to the school’s board to further increase bursaries by $500,000.

The university has also received a $1-million gift from The Birchall Family Foundation specifically to establish student bursaries.

The bursaries, designated for 75 first-year students this September, include 50 valued at $2,500 each, 25 at $5,000, and will be renewable for four years.

“My bet is that every university and college that’s out there is trying to do their best for their students,” said Levy.

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– The Canadian Press

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