BY EMMIE SIROKY
Financial freedom has come at last – for some students. The Ontario government announced in its 2016 budget that students whose families make less than $50,000 a year will have free tuition for college or university.
The new Ontario Student Grant (OSG), announced in the Feb. 25 budget, is a revamp of the student aid system and will begin in the 2017-18 school year.
However, the framework for the new funding assumes that the average university student’s yearly tuition is $6,160, but the average undergraduate program costs around $7,900. That also does not include books and other mandatory fees, such as parking or the fact that there is a set increase of four per cent for tuition in 2017. For Ontario colleges the math doesn’t add up either. The government is estimating that college tuition costs $2,800 a year. The average college tuition for diploma programs is $2,400, $3,600 for graduate certificate programs, $5,000 for collaborative programs and $6,100 for bachelor’s programs.
“Engineering students have to pay a little more. Arts and science students, it will be completely free for them,” said Reza Moridi, minister of training, colleges and universities, in an interview with Maclean’s magazine. “They have to use a figure, so that’s the figure they have been using in the ministry.”
Students who have already accumulated debt to pay for their schooling are miffed.
“Well, that’s kind of unfair to families that make more money because everyone should have access to free tuition.” said Jessica Heaysman, a first-year general arts and science health option student.
“I have already spent money on this year’s tuition and it was very hard for me. I understand how hard it would be for families who can’t afford to send their kids to school, so it’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing.”
Tiana Davies, a first-year Conestoga College media foundations student, said, “I feel like it’s confusing because you have low-income students who have already received OSAP and are already owing close to $20,000 for how many years they have been in school plus the tax you owe on top of that. I just want to know if they are going to rebate that or are leaving (current students) to suffer with their debt. You can’t say you’re going to make school free for low-income families and leave current students in debt after you make that decision.”
Austin Denstedt, a second-year fitness and health student, said, “I don’t think it really affects me personally. I think it’s a good idea for people who can’t afford their tuition and have a low source of income.”
Students who received loans under the current OSAP process will still have the debt said Jeff Scherer, president of Conestoga Students Inc. “If they are continuing studies or are going back to school in the 2017-2018 year then their OSAP would follow the new OSG program and they may qualify for more grants than loans.”
In the past some students were not sure about going on to post-secondary education because of the high costs. Scherer believes the new funding formula will help them make up their minds.
“I believe that students will become more motivated towards their post-secondary education as the public has a vested interest in their success,” said Scherer.
He added the OSG is not available to students wanting to study aboard.
“You have to be an Ontario resident studying either within the province or within Canada. Students can still apply for the Canada financial assistance for studying abroad.”
For a video story on the OSG, go to www.spokeonline.com.