Missing out on millions

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Last year, Ryerson spent about $15 million on student awards and scholarships aimed to help students pay for school. But few students fit the rigid applicant criteria and most don’t even know this funding exist. Samantha Edwards investigates the university’s financial aid system and looks into why most students aren’t getting any cash

Ryerson allocates millions of dollars each year to awards and scholarships meant to recognize deserving students. Thousands are awarded to student athletes, those involved in community efforts and academic superstars. Last year, Ryerson allocated approximately $15 million of its budget to awards and scholarships meant to help students financially.

But most students never see a penny of that cash.

Most of the awards and scholarships that Ryerson offers come equipped with rigid restrictions and specific mandatory criteria, which means that most average students in good academic standing do not qualify. Second-language skills, preferred geographic residency and specific ethnic background requirements are all caveats tied to many of the awards offered by Ryerson.

Business management, one of Ryerson’s largest programs with more than 4,000 students, received only 163 applications for awards and scholarships in the past year. The program doles out more than $200,000 in awards and scholarships every year, but less than four per cent of students apply for the available funding.

Joanne Dibratto, administrator of the business management awards program, recognizes that there are many restrictions, but says “it’s up to the powers above” to decide the criteria.

The upper crust that chooses the qualifications is a combination of the individual faculties and the private donors that provide funding. These donors are sough out by University Advancement, the department responsible for acquiring funds from the private sector to finance Ryerson through grants, awards, scholarships and bursaries.

Adam Kahan, vice-president of university advancement, says that, while sponsors do not control all the criteria, the award ultimately must meet the objectives outlined by the donor. Some require the successful recipient to be from a particular neighborhood or be of a specific ethnic background.

Ryerson also offers a number of university-wide awards, which are technically available to all students but are also riddled with restrictions. Many of the awards target women, minorities, students with disabilities and Aboriginal students. Nearly half consider factors other than academic achievement. While this highlights the university’s support of traditionally disadvantaged groups, the requirements also limit the number of eligible applicants.

The restrictions that come along with awards and scholarships have meant that, at times, money is not awarded because there are not enough applicants. Dibratto says that, while it’s uncommon in business management, there have been some specific instances when no money was awarded. This is particularly a problem for awards targeting entrepreneurship students and money has gone unawarded in the past.

The low number of applicants has led some programs to develop alternative ways of recruiting eligible students. While the majority of business management students are not applying for awards and scholarships, this is far from the case for those enrolled in retail management. Last year over 34 per cent of students in the program applied for awards totaling over $100,000.

The high percentage of candidates is partially attributed to the streamlined application process that the program has implemented. Rather than requiring applicants to apply to each award individually, students only need to send in one all-encompassing submission. The awards committee then goes through each application and considers the student for every award for which they meet criteria. According to Sean Sedlezky, the program’s manager, this method also leads to more fair distribution of scholarships since “the committee tries to make sure that there isn’t one person that wins everything. ”

This isn’t always the case in other programs. In business management, some students win multiple awards, racking up more than $17,000 in one year alone. While this is not necessarily unfair, it does make it harder for other students who just can’t compete with others in their program.

Students are also disadvantaged if their faculty has fewer funds available and, as a result, has fewer scholarships and awards. Some faculties, like Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) and Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) hand out huge sums of money to students, while others have miniscule amounts at their disposal. This year, FCAD programs collectively planned to dish out more than $383,000, while TRSM had $341,000 in awards and scholarships at its fingertips. This is nearly eight times the amount available to the Faculty of Arts (ARTS).

The size of the faculty does not factor into the allocation of funds either. For instance, FEAS only receives $196,000 despite being one of Ryerson’s largest faculties.

Programs within these faculties follow the same pattern. While the RTA’s $115,000 budget is the second highest in the university, Sociology only offers all of its students only $500 in awards.

But the university can’t do much to make the allocation of funding more equitable, according to Kahan. Ryerson already tries to attract a variety of donors to spread the funding across faculties and programs. But, according to Kahan, looking at the stats alone shows that “donors want to support business students more than students in other programs.”

In Kahan’s view, the final decision lies with the donors. “[A]t the end of the day, donors decide what awards they want to support.”

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