Will the number of students who graduate in Ontario decrease because of changes in post secondary school funding?

opinionred 100x100By Andrew Drummond

January 21st, 2019



Last week, the Ontario government announced a number of changes to the way the Colleges and Universities will be funded in Ontario. As with many of the changes that have been brought in by this government, these changes are short-sighted and will cause hardships that fall heaviest on the most vulnerable in our society.

The changes include:

– A 10% reduction in tuition for most undergraduate and diploma programs, with no funding to address the revenue shortfall this will create

– A reduction in the number of grants available to low income students and more stringent requirements needed to get a grant

– The end of free tuition for low income students

– A reduction in the amount of family income necessary to disqualify you from the OSAP program

– Changes to the application of interest to force students to pay back more money earlier.

Each of these changes will have different impacts and should be evaluated separately.

Graduation - hats in the air

In essence, what the Ford government is declaring is, a family that makes minimum wage is too rich for their kids to deserve a grant to attend college.

The change the government is advertising the most is the 10% reduction in tuition fees. On its face this seems to be a positive policy change that will allow more students access to post-secondary education. When announcing it, Minister Fullerton called it “a historic moment that will better help low income…”.

However, the key to this policy is in the details of it. This reduction will cost universities and colleges $400 million per year in lost tuition revenue. When asked how the institutions would handle the reduction in funds, Minister Fullerton responded, “They will need to adapt. To innovate.” Anyone who has attended a university in the past 20 years will be able to figure out what sort of “innovations” this will entail. Larger class sizes, more part-time instructors. Colleges and universities will figure out how to do it with less, but it will come at the expense of the quality of education that students will receive.

Such action is short sighted in many different ways. If the goal of our colleges and universities is to best prepare the next generation for careers to move Ontario forward, is it not essential to protect the quality of that education? When we reduce the value of our institutions, it lowers Ontario’s ability to be competitive on both a national and international stage. The current government makes ubiquitous announcements regarding building Ontario up to be open for business. However, these actions are going to lower the quality of our future workforce, thus making Ontario less attractive for anyone looking to expand here.

Beyond the damage to the institutions themselves, the government also made it more difficult for students from lower income families to attend university. One of the most progressive policies brought forth from the previous Liberal government had been to develop a grant system by which a lower income student could receive free tuition. Now this grant system has been reduced so that is no longer possible. Additionally, the grants that remain are available only to students whose family income is less than $50,000, excluding a huge population that desperately needs this assistance.

It is worth digging deeper into exactly what the effect of lowering the threshold to $50,000 will do, and by extension what the government considers low income to be. A person making minimum wage full time earns $14 an hour. If they earn this wage 40 hours a week, their weekly earnings are $560. Multiply that by 52 weeks and a minimum wage earner working full time gets $29,120 each year (assuming they didn’t have to take any unpaid sick days). If both parents earn this amount, the family income (excluding money the student makes) is $58,240.

In essence, what the Ford government is declaring is, a family that makes minimum wage is too rich for their kids to deserve a grant to attend college.

Beyond the elimination of grants is the changes announced to the OSAP system. While there may be a compelling argument for reducing the threshold to apply from $175,000 to $140,000, it is still going to be a difficult change for some students whose parents cannot or will not help them and they will need to turn to private lenders.

Adding further damage is the announced change to the grace period before students have to pay interest on their owed loan amounts. Even Mike Harris’ government saw fit to allow a six month grace period given the difficulty most recent graduates experience in finding. This grace period is based on understanding that for youth there are struggles to break into their chosen fields and that a grace period to allow them time to start a life was necessary. Taking away the grace period and thus taking money away from recent graduates is a regressive step that will make it harder for young people to begin a career.

Taken as a whole, all of these changes amount to: lower standards for post-secondary education, increased barriers for lower income students, and more punishing requirements for students to hurt their abilities to build a life after graduation. What Ontario needs is more robust funding for better education. What we need is the removal of barriers so that every student is able to pursue education in their chosen field of study.

But most of all, what we need is a government who values these things and is looking to build Ontario for the future not cut it in the present.

McKenna + Drummond

Andrew Drummond with Jane McKenna, the MPP for Burlington,

Andre Drummond was the New Democrat candidate for Burlintong in the last provincial election.

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