BY JASMINE ANTHONY
MPP Kevin Flynn held a session at Sheridan’s Trafalgar Campus on March 15 to announce the new Ontario Student Grant, which was released as part of the recent 2016 provincial budget.
In front of an audience of about 30 faculty members, students and media, Flynn and Sheridan President Jeff Zabudsky shared pride for the new bill, which will make tuition free for all students with a family income of less than $50,000.
Flynn, who calls the program “ingenious,” said that the new program is “the single largest modernization of student financial assistance in the province of Ontario.”
“A stark participation gap still exists in the province of Ontario, and we need to change that,” he said.
“Seventy-seven per cent of students from the highest income families in this province pursue post-secondary education. When you go to the lowest income, it’s 22 per cent.”
Flynn also noted that “the investments we’ve made to date in post-secondary education are something that we are really proud of.”
Ontario has a post-secondary completion rate of 66 per cent, which Flynn said is one of the highest on the planet.
The 2016 budget will see changes to OSAP that will provide free tuition to post-secondary students from low-income families, and provide better and more upfront support to all students in Ontario.
Flynn said that they will do this by “combining our existing student assistance program into a single new program simply called the Ontario student grant program.”
What it does, Flynn said, is “blows up the barriers that prevents thousands of high school grads from pursuing or completing a university degree or college diploma.”
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This grant will also provide additional support for full-time mature and married students.
“Often in the past (there) was a bit of a mixed message. We were telling people that your education never ends, but the funding does.”
Some misconceptions about the grant were also cleared up.
“No eligible student will receive less aid from the Ontario student grant than they currently receive with the 30 per cent off Ontario tuition,” Flynn said.
The session at Sheridan follows the government’s announcement on Feb. 25, which was met with much praise, but also some criticism.
Speaking afterward with the Sheridan Sun, Zabudsky and Flynn explained why the bill is so important.
“We know that the No. 1 barrier to post-secondary education is cost,” said Zabudsky.
“It doesn’t just address the barrier, but the perception of the barrier,” he said.
“The barrier used to be, even if it was affordable, if people felt it wasn’t affordable, they wouldn’t even apply. This makes it much more transparent up front to what the actual sticker price is going to be.”
There was a moment for Flynn when “the penny dropped,” and he knew that free tuition would have a lasting impact on youth.
It was at a high school in Oakville the day after the release of the proposed bill. After giving a presentation to a Grade 10 civics class, he made the announcement of the free tuition.
He remembers particularly a row of students sitting in the back of that class.
“They hadn’t really participated until I mentioned the grant, and then all of a sudden you could see their eyes light up a bit, and they started asking questions,” said Flynn.
“I think they were those kids that I was talking about that had counted themselves out already, and all of a sudden in one sentence I said, ‘There’s no reason you can’t go to college.”
“Anytime you do anything in politics where you see it really impact on somebody personally, and it’s not just an announcement that’s kind of hanging up in the sky somewhere… then you know you’ve done something good,” said Flynn.