Students no better off after government announcement
ost-secondary students in Ontario just received 10% off their tuition starting next September. At first glance, this is great news; the average savings for a student enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Toronto is almost $700 per year (approx. $2,100 over their 4-year education).
However, announced at the same time were significant changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), as well as the news that colleges and universities will not receive any additional funding from the province to make up for the gap in lost tuition fees.
For many students and their families, the changes announced to cut tuition by 10% combined with the reforms to OSAP is likely to cause anxiety while they wait to see exactly what the final tuition bill for 2019-20 will be as it will take some time for colleges and universities to adapt.
Yet we can do some quick math: I went onto OSAP’s website, which has been updated, and did an estimate for a student living away from home enrolled in an undergraduate program with a family income below $50,000.
The estimated total OSAP that the student will receive is $14,700; $7,100 in the form of a grant, the remaining $7,600 a loan. Previously, the same student would receive an estimated $16,200; $9,100 in the form of a grant and the remaining $7,100 as a loan. In this new model not only is the student receiving $2,000 less as a grant but a decrease in overall OSAP funding by $1,500.
Change that to a student living at home and the gap is even greater. Students are able to make up for some of that increase by using their new power to opt-out of certain ancillary fees that fund organizations such as student unions (who provide students with extended health benefits), student-run newspapers, and programs for LGBTQ or other marginalized students, but is this choice really benefiting students and supporting their education?
The intent of the previous government’s changes to OSAP was never solely about increasing attendance in post-secondary, or just about providing free tuition. It was about opening doors to career paths for all students, not just those who are able to afford it.
When the announcement was first made I was invited to multiple events across Toronto, in some of the most marginalized neighbourhoods, where the response from students was overwhelmingly positive.
According to the 2017 Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Student and Parent Census data, 41% of TDSB families between junior kindergarten and grade 6 earn less than $50,000 per year. Looking at student data, 29% of students in grades 9-12 worry about their family’s financial situation and 72% worry about their future.
Not only would the free tuition initiative been a huge step forward towards breaking the cycle of poverty in many communities, there would have been a positive impact on those student’s health and mental well-being, since much of the anxiety of funding their post-secondary education and the impact that would have on their family would have been eliminated.
While there were concerns raised about the rising cost of the reformed OSAP program when the Auditor General released her report in December, the effectiveness may have taken years to properly evaluate, an undergraduate degree or a college diploma is only the first stop for many students in their post-secondary journey.
For those from low-income families, the changes announced this week could mean the difference between becoming a Doctor, entering the workforce immediately after completing an undergraduate degree, or at worst, never attending a post-secondary institution. Ultimately, that has a negative impact on our province’s economy, the quality and diversity of our post-secondary institutions, and will do nothing to stop the growing gap between the richest and the poorest in Ontario.
Jennifer Arp is a Principal at Aurora Strategy Group and is the former Vice Chair of the Toronto District School Board.