November 18, 2019

Earlier this year the Ford government announced changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Students across the province promptly erupted in outrage, organizing protests and demanding the changes be reversed.

The primary concern being expressed is the effect the changes will have on students in more dire financial situations. However, will the changes really make it impossible for some students to pursue post-secondary education? No, they won’t.

The changes being made are:

  • A ten per cent reduction in tuition.
  • The subsidized education threshold is being lowered from $175,000 to $140,000.
  • 82 per cent of grant funding will be allocated to families with an income of less than $50,000.
  • Interest will now be charged on loans immediately after graduation.

Low-income students will still be able to get most of their tuition covered by grants, but a larger percentage of OSAP support will be in the form of loans. Looking at the OSAP calculator, a student coming from a family with an income of $70,000 (the average family income in Canada) and attending a university undergraduate program straight out of high school is still eligible for up to $6,100 dollars in grants, and $8,600 in loans. Students from families making less than $50,000 can get the same amount, but with $7,100 in the form of grants and $7,600 as loans. That is enough to cover most of, or all, the tuition at most universities.

If someone takes the maximum amount of loans for four years, they would graduate around $30,400 in debt, about the price of a new sedan. Considering the average starting salary of a university graduate is around $55,000, this seems a fairly small price to pay in the long run. Not to mention that doing co-op terms and working while in school could easily offset a large portion of this debt when coupled with frugal living.    

Another thing to consider is how much OSAP is costing Ontario. A note from the Auditor General mentioned that the cost of OSAP could go up 50 per cent by 2020-21 from 2016-17. The cost of OSAP in 2018-19 is already at $2 billion. This is not sustainable and, considering Ontario’s debt is higher than the GDP of most countries, perhaps we should stop giving people free stuff.

Keeping in mind how expensive OSAP has become, you would think that it has had a massively beneficial effect on making education more accessible. However, there has only been a one- to two-per-cent increase in post-secondary enrolment over the past several years. So if increased OSAP grants did not make education more accessible, and they drove Ontario deeper into debt, then all fiscally responsible individuals should, with open arms, welcome scaling back the program.     

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