EDITORIAL BY ALEX TAYLOR
Doug Ford’s government announced last week that it will drastically overhaul the existing OSAP program moving forward, cutting the grants given out to students and increasing the amount of money loaned to applicants.
But don’t worry. “This will help students.”
Since 2016, OSAP has offered “free tuition” for students from low-income families. Those students who fit the criteria were offered a package of grants and loans, with the grant being large enough to cover the entire tuition cost, ensuring they would not have to spend a penny of their loan to go to school.
Naturally, such a deal led to a significant increase in applicants, a jump which has now apparently made the program “unsustainable,” according to the province.
Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton says that the previous Liberal program was “handing out OSAP money to some of Canada’s highest income earners”, a problem for the conservative government that inherited the project.
According to a CBC report,the auditor general has calculated a 25 percent jump in costs between this year and last, and the program was estimated to have cost the government $2 billion by 2020-2021.
The Ford government’s new plan will lower the maximum income level for OSAP aid from $175,000 family income to $140,000 family income. Grants will now be focused on those students whose family income is lower than $50,000. Even in those cases, grants will no longer be larger than the cost of tuition.
The OSAP program is not the only margin being cut. The Conservatives have also announced a 10 percent decrease in tuition costs for next year, and a tuition freeze for the following year in all colleges and universities. Most institutions have followed a 3 percent increase in tuition annually.
The decrease/freeze one-two punch will cost Ontario’s universities an estimated $360 million, while colleges can expect around $80 million in losses.
While the Conservative government is insisting that these changes will bring help to those who are more needy, some are not so sure.
David Macdonald is in the first year of a three-year massage therapy program at Mohawk College. He is a returning student who decided to continue his studies in part thanks to the deal offered in the Liberal program.
“I used the grant to pay for my tuition, and I used the loan to supplement my work schedule.” Macdonald explains.
“I am fast-tracking my three-year program into two, and my classes are really condensed and intensified. I am now working two to three days a week.”
Macdonald’s OSAP package will look drastically different in the second year of his program, and it is a change he is not happy with.
“Now the rules have changed halfway through . . . and I am forced to decide whether I would like to [get a] loan more money to pay for tuition and add to my already costly debt, or stop halfway through. I have decided to continue, but it will require I increase my work hours to pay [the difference].”
But there is one thing that irks Macdonald more than anything else.
“It’s the spin,” He says. “I appreciate that budgets are difficult and complex . . . cuts will have to come from somewhere. What I am angry about is that the Conservative government is trying to spin this cut as a change for the benefit of students. As a student, it most definitely is not a benefit for me to have less grant/more debt.”
According to the Ford government, this change will help ensure that “deserving” students get aid, whatever that means.
Just as the previous Liberal criteria made no sense when it handed out grants to families making over $100,000, the new Conservative criteria seem to have naturally gone too far the other way. A tuition cut only helps if you have the means to pay tuition, whether it be by grant aid or family help. For the majority of those in the program, the deduction in grant money will mean an increase in their loan, even with the tuition reduction.
These changes apparently will help students, but it doesn’t.
More loans don’t help students.
Less funding for schools don’t help students.
There is only one group these changes do help.
The number crunchers in Queens Park.