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Making Postsecondary Education More Affordable and Accessible

The New Ontario Student Grant

The 2016 Ontario Budget introduced many exciting initiatives that will help make life easier for Kingstonians and Islanders. One of the most transformative and groundbreaking changes is the overhaul of existing student assistance programs with the implementation of the new Ontario Student Grant (OSG). The OSG builds on our government’s record investments to post-secondary education and constitutes the single largest modernization of the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) in history. There has been some misleading information about what the OSG will actually mean for students and their families, so I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify the upcoming changes and why they are so important.

Every projection shows that to grow our knowledge-based economy and successfully compete in an increasingly global marketplace, jobs will require ever-greater training and specialized skills. However, postsecondary education is still out of reach for many students from modest means and many students graduate with crushing debt. This is what I heard when I met with undergraduate and graduate students from Queen’s and St. Lawrence College, as well as representatives from OUSA – one of the most vocal groups about transforming the system.

With my daughter in first year university and my other daughter in the process of applying to postsecondary school, I am acutely aware of the tuition costs, as well as all the other living and supplementary expenses that students (and parents) are facing. It is not fair, nor advantageous to us as a society, to allow tuition costs to be prohibitive to obtaining college or university education.

Ontario currently boasts one of the highest university and college participation rates in the world at 66 per cent. However, looking at those statistics in a little more detail, we see that while 77 per cent of students from the highest income families are pursuing postsecondary studies, the same can be said for only 22 per cent of youth from the lowest income families. Quite simply put, the odds of attending college or university decrease sharply if you make less; and that’s just not right.

Everyone, regardless of background or financial circumstance, should be able to go to university or college and get the education they need to be successful in the workforce and provide for their family.

The new OSG is a cost-neutral transformation of the existing system and will combine existing assistance programs into a single, upfront grant that is more generous and more straightforward. This is what students groups have been asking for years. The upfront, targeted grant is a smarter way to allocate taxpayer dollars and it will help those who need it the most, increasing access for a low-income segment of the population that is currently grossly underrepresented in our post-secondary institutions.

I also want to be very clear that no Ontario student will receive less than they are currently eligible for through the 30% Off Tuition Grant.

By September 2017:

  • Students from families with incomes of less than $50,000 will receive free tuition and have no provincial student debt.
  • More than 50 per cent of students from families with incomes of $83,000 or less will have non-repayable grants in excess of average tuition.
  • The Ontario Student Grant will also be eligible to a wider variety of full-time students, including mature students, married students and students who have been out of school for more than four years. Eligibility for grant support will no longer be tied to the number of years a student has been out of high school.

These changes will guarantee that 170,000 students will have non-repayable grants that exceed what they would have received previously under OSAP and approximately 250,000 students will have less debt than they would under OSAP.

Of course, I also know that some middle-income families are also struggling with the current and expected costs of tuition, especially if they have more then one child heading out to college or university. This is why by September 2018, the Province will increase access to interest-free and low-cost loans for middle- and upper-income families by reducing their expected parental contributions. This change will better align Ontario and federal thresholds and provide increased financial support to middle- and upper-income families. The Province is also reducing the amount a student’s spouse is expected to contribute.

Kingston and the Islands is home to three post-secondary institutions and more than 25,000 students were enrolled full-time in college and university programs in 2015-2016. Modernizing our province’s student assistance program will make a positive difference in the lives of many of these students; it will alleviate the financial stress of paying for school and help students focus on what really matters – their studies and gaining valuable experience to enter the workforce.

The principal of Queen’s University, Dr. Daniel Woolf and St. Lawrence College’s President Glenn Vollebregt came out in firm support of these new changes, joining groups such as the College Student Alliance and the Canadian Federation for Students. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance called these changes: “sweeping improvements that will dramatically improve financial aid for our students,” while Colleges Ontario called it a “game-changer” that “will help more people find rewarding careers and help businesses to become more innovative and create more jobs.”

Breaking down barriers to education is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do. Investing in the skills and talents we have here at home helps spur economic growth and ensures we stay competitive in a global economy.

As a firm believer in building an equitable society, I am proud to be part of a government that recognizes not everyone is dealt the same hand in life and fights to give everyone the same opportunities to excel. Education is one of the key indicators of future wage earnings and has a direct positive correlation with improved health and longevity. Providing free tuition to the lowest income families ensures that everyone has access to the tools they need to build a strong future for themselves and their families, and build up Ontario.

Read more about other 2016 Budget initiatives that will benefit our community in my budget blog post.

2016 Ontario Budget: Improving Access to Postsecondary Education

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