Thousands of Ontarians will have one less hurdle to overcome in their pursuit of a post-secondary education, starting in the 2017-18 academic year.
As part of the 2016 budget, Minister of Finance Charles Sousa announced a free tuition plan for Ontario college and university students coming from low and middle-income households.
The new Ontario Student Grant will be available to all eligible students applying for the Ontario Student Assistance Program for the term starting in September 2017.
Ontario is a known leader in Canada in terms of education. Currently, 67-per-cent of Ontarian adults have a degree or diploma. The province has set a goal of 70-per-cent by 2020.
The new Ontario Student Grant will try to boost enrolment by taking some stress and fear away from more financially vulnerable students.
In a report by Statistics Canada released in late 2014, a group of Canadian graduates from 2009-10 were polled about their student loan debt three years later. Two-thirds of respondents still owed money on their loans.
Numbers like these can deter prospective students, especially with tuition fees being some of the highest in the country.
The Ontario Student Grant will use existing grants and roll them into one that will then be divvied up among eligible OSAP applicants.
Some funding will also come from the elimination of tuition and education tax credits, which mostly benefit wealthier families under the current arrangement.
The revamped grant will allow the province to cover tuition more fairly without costing taxpayers anything, giving students an opportunity to walk away from school with less debt.
Applications will be accepted beginning in the spring, and all students applying for OSAP will be screened for eligibility.
The OSAP website lists two basic requirements for free tuition. Students must be enrolled in a full-time program, and their parents must make $50,000 or less per year.
Once an application is complete, OSAP will determine what a student is eligible for in loans and grants.
For students meeting the requirements, the total amount in non-repayable grants should cover more than the average cost of tuition, allowing extra funds for books and other living expenses in many cases.
Under current OSAP rules, to access grants, the loans need to also be taken. As of September 2017, students will get to take what they need in grants without accepting any loans.
Students will be expected to contribute $3,000, the equivalent of working a part-time summer job for minimum wage. This is not to cover the cost of actual tuition, but instead to help a student with living expenses such as transportation, groceries and rent.
But the approximate 150,000 students who will get free tuition aren’t all from low-income homes. Many middle-income students can expect to pay $0 in tuition also.
Children of parents who earn anything less than the national median annual income of $83,300 will also receive more through the new grant, and will be considered for full tuition costs.
According to Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews’ website, it is expected about 80-per-cent of OSAP recipients will have lower student loan debt as a result of these changes.
While the grant doesn’t promise free tuition for everyone, the province has said it will continue to offer as much or more financial aid for all who qualify under the current program, in the form of low-interest and interest-free loans.
“We are leveling the playing field so all students can go on to college or university no matter how much money their parents make,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
For more information on the new grant or to sign up for it in the spring, visit the OSAP website at osap.gov.on.ca.