Changes to Ontario’s Student Loan Plan

Eliminating free tuition for students from low-income families while also cutting tuition fees.

Doug Ford recently announced changes in the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP), Ford’s government also introduced other changes such as tuition cuts (which are welcomed), as well as changes in grant eligibility.  But many students in Ontario have complained and worry about what these changes will mean for them.

Before the changes, people whose families earned 175,000 or less were eligible for funding through OSAP, good for those students and encouraging them to go to University and get a better education.  However, the new changes will mean that only students whose families earn 140,000 or less per year will be eligible for OSAP.  This may not sound like a lot but it may cut out a huge portion of students and so discourage them from attending school.  It also means that students who pay their own way in school are getting punished for their family’s income—income which may not benefit them.

In addition, it has been announced that the majority of grants will now be given to students whose families who earn 50,000 or less, while those who earn more will instead have a combination of grants and loans.  Grants are meant to help those families with low incomes and make it possible for them to achieve closer parity with people of higher economic status.  By reducing tuition costs, the government has been able to decrease grants, meaning more loans and fewer grants. There is a trade-off and it looks good on the surface, but it actually isn’t.

Students worry that the reduction of grants will mean more work and less time away from studies.  (Dione, online).  The new changes will also remove the six-month grace period for loans, meaning that now students will be charged interest immediately after graduating. For students, this means paying more interest charges for those who do not find a job right after completing their studies (which is a lot of people).  These changes have caused a demonstration at Yonge and Dundas square on January 25.  Meanwhile, other protests have been occurring since the announcement (Citizen, online).

One of the reasons given for these changes is that the previous grant increase, which increased costs by 25%, resulted in only a two percent enrollment hike according to the Ontario’s Auditor General’s findings. “Instead,” says Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, the government “will focus our resources on the families with the greatest need.”  (Dionne, online).  This seems like a worthy pursuit; however, many people fear what these changes will mean for them.

The government also announced that the tuition fees would decrease ten percent this year and be frozen the next year but has noted that colleges and universities will be expected to absorb this loss of revenue with no additional funding (Jones, online).

Other changes include the ability for students to opt out of fees that fund campus groups and student newspapers.  This could marginalize certain minority groups by not having representation in schools because their groups would be underfunded.  Minister Fullerton claims that many programs, such as health & safety, counselling, walksafe programs, and academic support, will remain mandatory and that “each institution will be tasked with deciding which of these additional fees are deemed essential and which students can choose to bypass” (Loriggio, online).  However, Canadian University Press, owned by student newspapers in Canada, said that campus newspapers “rely heavily on student levees and may not be able to function if students opt out en masse” (Loriggio, online). The changes could also mean reduction in on campus food banks, breakfast programs, and scholarships. This could impact school life in disastrous way by causing students to have to quit. Some students rely on these programs and scholarships to keep them going.

References
Dionne, Matt.  Jan 18, 2019.  Students respond to OSAP changes: ‘We are moving backwards’ Retrieved from: https://www.macleans.ca/education/students-respond-to-osap-changes-we-are-moving-backwards/
Loriggio, Paola.  (Jan 18, 2019).  Allowing students to opt out of fees will reduce accountability: campus groups.  Retrieved from: https://windsor.ctvnews.ca/allowing-students-to-opt-out-of-fees-will-reduce-accountability-campus-groups-1.4259076
Citizen Journalist Tv.  Ontario students protest changes to tuition | Power & Politics retrieved from: https://www.citjotv.com/2019/01/21/ontario-students-protest-changes-to-tuition-power-politics/
Jones, Allison. (Jan 17, 2019). “Ontario government cuts tuition fees by 10%, eliminates free tuition for low-income students”. Retrieved From: https://globalnews.ca/news/4856924/ontario-tuition-cuts/
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