Free Tuition? Think Again

The photo shows three students holding a large sign with the words "Tuition fees are too damn high!"

Students at a RSU Freeze the Fees event. (Ryersonian Staff)

This version has been updated with information to clarify the $3,000 contribution made by students towards their education costs.

Students from low-income families who qualify for the new Ontario Student Grant won’t be receiving free post-secondary education exactly.

Those who qualify for free tuition will still need to contribute $3,000 annually towards their education costs. 

“For example, for a student with $13,000 in costs, government assistance could cover up to $10,000,” said Belinda Bien, spokesperson for the minister of training, colleges and universities, in an email.

The contribution comes as a surprise to many including the deputy minister of training, colleges and universities who also happens to be Ryerson’s former president.

“That’s news to me. I don’t know what the $3,000 is,” Sheldon Levy said.

The Ontario Student Grant promises free tuition for students whose household income is $50,000 or less per year. It also promises to provide grants for more than 50 per cent of students from families with annual incomes of less than $83,000.

Although the grants exceed the cost of average tuition, according to the proposed budget, students will still need to reach into their wallets.

The $3,000 is described by the provincial government as a “student contribution” in each of the student scenarios described on its website.

“The government of Ontario considers postsecondary education to be a shared investment and responsibility for those who are able to afford it,” said Bien.

Bien also said that the expected $3,000 contribution will be automatically waived for some students such as those who have children or are on Ontario Disability Support.

“The amount of $3,000 represents after-tax income for a student working an average number of weekly hours at minimum wage for 16 weeks, which can be achieved over a typical summer period,” said Bien.

The new grant will be fully funded by the cancellation of the tuition tax credit and education tax credit, which will generate $145 million in 2017.

Levy said the government developed the new grant program because of “strong and sustained” student advocacy.

“For those students that were most in need, the most important thing was to give them very, very clear evidence that they could afford education,” Levy said.

Advocate groups such as the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) are part of the sustained advocacy that lead to the new grants.

“For years, OUSA has led the push for tax credit funds to be repurposed into effective, up-front aid, and now that’s exactly what we’ll be seeing,”  said Spencer Nestico-Semianiw, president of the OUSA, in a press release.  

“We’re extremely proud of the advocacy that we’ve done and our ability to work with the government to enact these major improvements for students.”  

The Ontario Student Grant program will be available to students by the 2017-2018 school year.

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