Ontario makes college tuition free for low income families making 50k or less a year. Increases grants for those making 83k or less a year.
Ontario students from low-income families won’t be paying tuition for college or university starting next year, part of an Ontario government plan to eliminate the “sticker shock” that deters so many from going on to post-secondary education.
The new Ontario Student Grant, announced in Thursday’s budget, is a revamp of the student aid system and will begin in the 2017-18 school year — it means money will be available upfront, before tuition bills are due, for families earning less than $50,000, said Reza Moridi, minister of training, colleges and universities.
The Liberal government expects 70 per cent of those students will actually receive more in provincial grants than the average amount of university tuition, leaving them with no provincial student debt.
“Our plan increases access for everyone and benefits the middle class,” said Minister of Finance Charles Sousa in his budget speech, referring to additional low-interest and interest-free loans to students from more affluent homes.
The government says cancelling the tuition tax credit and education tax credit will save $145 million in 2017 and that will fully fund the new grant plan that year, but it is unclear what will offset the costs in the future if participation rates soar.
“The government really took all the recommendations from students groups and included them in one budget,” said Jeff Scherer, president of the College Student Alliance. “We are really excited to see (the changes) — college students are generally from low-income homes and this will drastically affect a lot of them.”
“We have a lot to celebrate today with this commitment to fairness, equity and justice for students,” said Gabrielle Ross-Marquette of the Canadian Federation of Students, among the student groups that has been pushing for up-front grants. “Students from low-income families won’t graduate with tons of debt like we’re seeing now.”
However, she cautioned, Ontario tuition fees are “still very high. Just because there are grants available doesn’t mean tuition won’t keep rising.”
Tuition fees in Ontario have been the highest in the country — at an average of $6,160 yearly for an arts and science degree at university, $2,768 annually for college students — and are considered a barrier to post-secondary education.
While 66 per cent of adults in the province have a college or university education, they are typically from more affluent homes. The government says a student from a family earning $30,000 per year has a little over one in three chance of going on to post-secondary. A student from a family earning $110,000 a year has an almost two in three chance.
The government’s new grant scheme will mean about half of students whose parents earn $83,000 or less will receive more in non-repayable grants than they have to pay in tuition fees.
It will cover needy students through undergraduate and even graduate studies anywhere in Canada.
Zachary Rose, of the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance, said students will now get their grant money all at once, and before their tuition bill is due. The new system will “be much more transparent, much easier to understand and much more generous, particularly for students who need it the most.”