So what’s all this about free tuition?

In March, the Government of Ontario announced it would be providing “free tuition” to many post-secondary students through their new Ontario Student Grant. If you’re like me, you wondered, “What exactly does this mean?” and more importantly, “How do I get my free money?”

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This article will highlight the who, what and when questions you have about the new student grant.

  1. What, exactly, is happening?

The Liberal government announced in their 2016 provincial budget that low-income students will have post-secondary education available to them at no cost.  Additionally, many students from middle income families will also have the entirety of their tuition paid for. This will depend on a number of factors, such as how many people from a specific family are pursuing post-secondary education.

This program says it covers the “average cost of tuition”, adjusted yearly for inflation and tuition increases. This means those enrolling in more expensive programs, such as engineering, may not be fully covered. Fortunately, another program exists called Student Access Guarantee aimed at these students on a needs basis. This means those from low-income families will likely be fully covered even if they choose to pursue more expensive education.

Essentially, a new student grant system is being introduced to relieve the burden for whom it weighs heaviest. It is important to note that as part of this policy no one will receive less grant money under the new system than they do under the current system.

  1. Who can get in on this?

Every Ontario student attending a Canadian university can apply under the new system. This is a change from the old system, which penalizes more mature students and those who wish to attend school in a different province.

Students from households making under $50,000 a year will have their post-secondary education entirely paid for. Additionally, most of those from middle-income families making under $83,000 a year will also have their tuition fully covered.

Those from more fortunate circumstances will get at least as much grant money as they currently do under OSAP, although the policy promises to grant more access to interest-free and low cost loans to those whose families make up to $130,000 per year.

According to Statistics Canada students from homes making over $50,000 a year are 50% more likely to attend university. This indicates Canadians born into less fortunate situations face incredible difficulty in pursuing a post-secondary education. The new plan hopes to remedy this and make university and college more accessible to all Canadians.

  1. When will this be available?

The new system will roll out during the 2017/18 school year. Many of those applying for OSAP next spring will receive enough grant money to cover the entirety of their tuition costs in September; something I’m sure will make first years very happy, while us fourth years break down in tears thinking of our five-digit loans.

The government is also planning to change the way grant and loan information is conveyed to students. By the 2018/19 school year, they hope to have a “Net Tuition Bill” in place, which will present students with their total grant and aid money versus the cost of their tuition. Afterwards students will only be billed if they actually owe OSAP.

Essentially you’ll apply for OSAP and be provided with a bill listing all the sweet grant money about to come your way. This will usually be enough to cover your tuition, and sometimes even a little more, so you won’t have to fiddle around with actually paying the university.

  1. Does this mean more taxes?

Many people have argued this is “wealth distribution” that will “hurt the middle-class,” probably from listening a little too much to a certain dubiously haired presidential candidate.

The provincial government spends currently spends $1.3 billion per year on student grants. This will remain exactly the same under the new system. This is mostly due to a smarter reorganization of how and when the funds are applied. Back end tax credits are being cut in favour of upfront financial support.

All-in-all this genuinely seems like a good plan to make post-secondary education as accessible as possible. With any luck a majority of future Ontarians will never have to worry about student loans. Let’s watch and see what happens next year.

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