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The Ontario Tuition Grant: The Good, the Bad and the Uncertain

January 9th, 2012

 

The New Year is off to an incredibly exciting year for Feds, and for post-secondary student advocates across the province! One of the single biggest investments in financial aid in the province's history became official as of last week! As promised during the recent provincial election, the Ontario Tuition Grant, a program aimed at improving the affordability and accessibility of Ontario's Post-Secondary Education system, was announced and began accepting applications.

The new tuition grant will mean a 30% reduction in the price of tuition for 310,000 students in Ontario. Are you one of them? To find out if you are eligible visit ontariotuitiongrant.ca

So as the dust settles on this important announcement here are some of my thoughts on the good, the bad and the uncertain ?

The Good: The money is easy to get and coming fast! If you are already on OSAP, you will not need to take any additional action to receive the grant. If you aren't on OSAP, there is a relatively simple application process to complete at ontario.ca/30off.

The Ontario Tuition Grant is targeted at those students who need it most. "Needs based grants" are one of the more effective ways to provide targeted funding toward those students who would struggle most to attend, or potentially would not be able to attend Post-Secondary Education. The program also reaches a HUGE number of students? close to 50% of all undergraduate students in the province will be eligible.

The Bad: The Ontario Tuition Grant is funded in part by the cancellation of existing student financial aid programs. I don't think I need to tell you that times are tough for everyone's cheque books - this also includes our provincial government.

Part of the funding for this year's investment into the program, which costs $420 million annually (at today's tuition price), will come from the expiration of the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarships, the Ontario Trust for Student Support Scholarships, and the Textbook and Technology Grant . While it is disappointing to see these programs disappear, reallocating these funds to the Ontario Tuition Grant will reach more students, creates efficiencies in the distribution of the funding, and will allow for more flexibility for how students spend the money.

There are some key groups who will be missed by the eligibility criteria laid out for this program. The group that I get the most questions about is independent students (that is those students who have been out of school for more than 4 years).

It would be great to see this grant available to all students. The rationale for this cut off is that under the current OSAP needs assessment, students who have been out of high school for more than 4 years receive their OSAP allocation based on 0% parental contribution, which means that they receive significantly more funds through that channel than those who are considered dependent students.

A good case can be made for extending eligibility to students in their fifth year in co-op programs, especially since this would not cost the government any additional money. This is something we will continue to advocate for as the program rolls out. Other groups that are top of mind at this time are students with dependents and Aboriginal students, who often do not enter into post-secondary programs directly after high school, or who may take more than four years to complete their degree because of their other commitments. It would be great to see eligibility extended to these students, especially since the government has indicated their desire to support these demographics.

The Uncertain: The question that remains in my mind is "how sustainable is this grant?"

For people like me that means our work is far from over. The next step is to get a tuition framework that is affordable, predictable and fair for students, and that will also maintain the value of this important investment in student aid. The grant is tied to 30% of average tuition, which means that as tuition rises, the government investment in the program will have to increase.

So what will the new tuition framework look like, and what will that mean for this grant? The current tuition framework, which expires this year, has increases in tuition regulated at 5% - which essentially means that institutions can raise tuition by no more than an average of 5% across the board. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance has been working hard all year to see a tuition framework that is favourable for students, and would like to see tuition regulated at no higher than inflation. In my mind, this is the crucial next step for ensuring that this program will truly meet its objective and be beneficial for students in the long term.

Any questions? Like always, my door is open or you can shoot me an email anytime.

Natalie Cockburn

VP Education - University of Waterloo, Federation of Students
VP Finance - Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance

 

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