Students at King’s University College and other Ontario schools can pay school- related fees with Aeroplan miles that their family and friends collect. Photo courtesy of King’s University College

New program takes flight to pay for tuition

By 
  • October 25, 2014

Life for post-secondary students is often a time of financial turbulence, but a new program that allows tuition to be paid with Aeroplan reward miles could make for some smoother landings.

The program allows Aeroplan members to donate reward miles to students, which can then be converted into dollars and applied against tuition and other education costs at universities and colleges that register in the program.

“No one source is going to cover a student’s whole year, so this is one piece,” said Shelly Guerin, a student financial services officer at King’s College in London, Ont. where the program was introduced this September. “Every little bit helps in terms of funding a student’s cost every year.”

The program began last year when a Canadian start-up company, Higher Ed Points, partnered with Aeroplan to get the idea off the ground. By the end of the school year about 20 schools had signed up and several others came on board over the summer.

Among those offering the Aeroplan option this September are a number of Catholic campuses, including King’s, St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont. and Brescia University College in London, Ont. Although not a post-secondary institution, Ontario’s only independent Catholic school for boys, St. Michael’s College School, is also enrolled in the program.

The primary intention is to offset the cost of tuition, which at universities is expected to rise 13 per cent over the next four years, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The points can be turned into cash and put towards any student expenses owed to a school.

With students facing an average of $7,300 in tuition and activity fees at King’s, and an additional $10,000-plus if they are living on their own, according to ministry estimates, Guerin said students need all the financial help they can get.

Even provincial student loan programs such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program, popularly known as OSAP, have funding caps of about $14,000 which leaves even thrifty students scrounging, she said.

“Most students worry about budgeting,” she said. “There are usually unmet needs for most students. Students have to get creative to meet the areas that aren’t covered by other sources.”

At King’s about 50 per cent of students seek financial aid and Guerin said many of those likely need additional support but are reluctant to ask for help.

“Students don’t want to have to ask for money,” she said. “They are ashamed of the stigma attached to that. No one wants to look like they are poor.”

Although it takes 35,000 miles to earn $250 dollars, the program allows students to combine points from their network of family, extended family and friends. That means while mom or dad may not have 35,000 miles to donate, uncle John and best friend Susan, along with grandpa and grandma can pool their reward points to help out.

Guerin believes students will find it easier to ask friends and family to deposit their reward miles into an online account, found at www.higheredpoints. com, than asking for dollars and cents.

King’s does not track payments made from this program, but Guerin said she is positive several students have taken advantage of it this year. “The way it comes to us it looks like an online banking payment,” Guerin said.

“Asking for Aeroplan Miles has a different connotation to it,” said Guerin. “Not everyone has extra money to give but a lot of people have extra Aeroplan Miles to give.” 

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