We are living in a golden age of education. As of this September, the poorest youth in Ontario finally have access to post-secondary education thanks to a revamped OSAP that now includes ‘free’ tuition. At least, that’s what the provincial government would have you believe. As a matter of fact, the so-called “free tuition” is anything but. The revamped OSAP program has many flaws seldom mentioned by the government.
One of the largest flaws of the new program is the lack of clarity surrounding the claim of free tuition. One could be forgiven for assuming that this means that the full cost of university would be covered. However, this is not the case. For example, the tuition and fees for a domestic student at Glendon taking a full course load are equal to $7,523 per year. The problem is, the government’s free tuition grant is only worth $6,500 per year because it doesn’t reflect the actual cost of tuition, but is instead indexed to the average cost of tuition. This means that students will still be on the hook for $1,023, and that’s before they even have time to consider things like textbooks, residence, and the cost of getting to and from school. The students who are hardest hit by this are those who are in more expensive programs, such as engineering or law, as they will be forced to seek financial aid elsewhere to bridge the funding gap.
The second major flaw with this program is coverage. The most recent government statistics show that over 200,000 students will be eligible for the free tuition program and that over 170,000 students would be receiving more funding than they would have in previous years. However, this is only a fraction of the 822,465 students currently enrolled in Ontario’s 44 public universities and colleges, according to Statistics Canada. This means that almost 55% of Ontarian post-secondary students will still face the same outrageous tuition fees of previous years. Part of the reason why the percentage is so high is because the government is only providing free tuition to students whose parents earn under $50,000. This means that even middle-class families aren’t eligible for this grant as the program doesn’t take debt loads into account. OSAP also takes your own income into account, meaning that a student who decides to be financially-independent and work a summer job will actually see less funding as a result.
The third major flaw is the fact that the government removed other grants in order to pay for this so-called free tuition making it harder for many students to pay for their education. In previous years, students were able to claim the cost of tuition, textbooks and other educational expenses as a tax credit. Also, a grant given to Francophones and students from rural areas who had to travel further than 80 kilometres from their homes in order to pursue education in French has now vanished. This grant has now been amalgamated into the free tuition program. The problem with the free tuition grant is the following: instead of providing students with new and expanded financial aid, the government has instead redistributed existing funding into a single large grant. In essence, the government has merely shifted funding around in order to make it seem as if they are making a commitment to improving access to post-secondary education.
It’s patently obvious that the provincial government has failed Ontario’s students and is attempting to manipulate us. Instead of offering real change and providing financial freedom we so desperately need in order to thrive after our university careers, we are given useless platitudes, further shackling us to insurmountable debt loads. It’s undeniable that the revamped OSAP will help reduce the financial burden faced by many students. However, implementing a nomenclature alluding to free tuition is a dishonest and shameful practice. For me, free tuition would involve a universal program covering all students regardless of their income, to provide us with the necessary support to achieve success. As students, we have the ability to demand lower cost education, and to force those in power to acknowledge that we will not stand for unreasonable tuition increases.