Ford, conservatives taking a step backwards with OSAP changes

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Last week it was announced that the Ford government would cut tuition costs by 10 per cent — and that there would be an overhaul of Ontario Student Assistance Program loans. While saving anywhere between a couple hundred to a thousand dollars in tuition is helpful for any student, the multiple changes to OSAP loans will hurt a lot of students.

Free tuition for students whose family income is under $50,000 is going to be eliminated in the OSAP changes. In addition, students who came from families earning less than $175,000 per year were eligible for OSAP, now, with the changes the Ford government is making, only students from families earning less than $140,000 per year will be able to apply for OSAP. The grace period for students having to start to repay their OSAP loans was six-months after graduating — giving them some time to start working (or in many cases, find work) to be able to start paying the money back. Now, there will be no grace period, and students will be required to start making payments to OSAP right after graduation.

Like many students around Ontario, I rely on OSAP, multiple jobs during the summer, a job during the school year, and oftentimes having to work most days of reading weeks and winter break to cover tuition, rent, groceries, and all the other life expenses. While the tuition cut will reduce the cost for school a little, the changes to OSAP are essentially wiping out any help the tuition costs would have made for students.

Post-secondary education used to be something that only the wealthy could access, but with the guidelines for OSAP (free tuition for those with lower family incomes, and grants and loans for those with family incomes under the $175,000) many Canadians were able to pursue a university or college degree. While there are still many students who don’t have the means to be able to go to university or college, continuing to improve the OSAP assistance would have helped more people access post-secondary education.

If anything, the Ontario government should have been aiming to further help students be able to attend post-secondary school with less fear of paying tuition, paying bills and rent, and being able to eat. Instead, with the new changes from the Ford government, thousands of students will be forced to work multiple jobs during the school year (if they aren’t already doing so) to cover the cost of their tuition, books, and so forth. If society has set the expectation that — to get a job — you must at the very least receive a college or university degree (and usually, that doesn’t end up being enough, and certainly doesn’t guarantee you a job), then how is making the path to that initial degree more difficult a solution to more people obtaining degrees? Does anyone consider the time a student spends per week at a job that could be spent studying? Does anyone consider that many students in their later years must also go outside of the school for volunteering or other initiatives related to their program to help boost their chances of being admitted to a masters program or getting a job in their field?

The changes are a huge step backwards for Ontario. How long will it take for us to get back to the point we were at before the Ford government? How many people will have missed out on their opportunity to attend post-secondary school because they can’t afford it? Too many.

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