It’s official: Ontario tuition grants are free after all

By John Michael McGrath - Published on March 3, 2016
students at desks writing
The Ontario Student Grant will cover approximately one year of tuition for low-income students.

Let’s try this again: the Ontario government says its tuition grants announced in last week’s budget will effectively make tuition free for students coming from families making less than $50,000 annually. And they mean it this time.

Contradicting information that was provided to TVO last week, staff from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities say the standardized $3,000 “student contributions” that are expected to supplement aid from the government will not be a precondition to accessing the Ontario Student Grant.

“It’s not a barrier to entry. We don’t require payment. We just assume that of your costs, you’ll come up with $3,000 of them,” says Noah Morris, director of the student financial assistance branch at the ministry. “You’ll just have to live $3,000 cheaper if you don’t come up with it.”

The government never claimed that it was covering the entire cost of post-secondary education — students still need to find the money for rent, food, books, and anything else they need such as phone and Internet service. What the new policy will do is offer low-income students grants that will cover approximately the cost of tuition for a year of a standard arts and science degree, or roughly $6,160.

That’s still less than the $7,868 Statistics Canada says is the average cost of an Ontario tuition, because the provincial government isn’t promising the Ontario Student Grant will cover the cost of more expensive programs. Students who want to pursue costlier studies will have to rely on separate assistance plans through their educational institution to cover the extra tuition. 

Morris says the government is agnostic about where the $3,000 the student puts toward their education comes from. “I mean, hopefully they didn’t steal it,” he says. And the student contribution won’t be assessed at all for single parents or people on social assistance — meaning they’ll be eligible for larger grants.

Students who can’t scrounge together $3,000 from their own earnings or savings and still face a financial burden will have additional grants made available to them based on an assessment from their educational institution.

Morris offers an example: “If they show up in September and they couldn’t get a job all summer because they were caring for a sick parent, it’s up to the school to conduct a review.”

The government is also making it easier for students to get that $3,000 on their own terms. The old Ontario Student Assistance Program used to effectively penalize students who earned more than $3,000 on summer jobs, or worked more than 10 hours a week during the school year. Those penalties have been lifted. The first $3,000 of a student’s savings has also been exempted from their OSAP contribution.

Other elements of the Ontario Student Grant haven’t been finalized. Morris says the details will be made public in black and white when provincial regulations are published in the fall.

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