By Jenn Watt
Published Jan. 22, 2019
College and university students needed tuition relief. Ontario’s tuition fees are higher than those in most of Canada, and well above what many young people and their families can afford.
The province’s PC government announced those prices would be dropping by 10 per cent in the coming school year.
This is welcome news for students, however, for colleges the picture is more challenging. The promised cost reduction for students doesn’t necessarily come with corresponding funding for colleges.
At Fleming College, which has a campus in Haliburton, the shortfall is estimated to be about $2.5 million. In a comment to the Echo, the college said they would do all they can to minimize the impact on students and pledged to find innovative solutions to bridge the gap.
That’s reassuring, but one has to wonder how those savings will be found and what programs, staff or services will be curtailed to make that happen.
Will Ontario’s colleges and universities be able to continue to offer the same high quality education with a $440 million loss in the 2019-2020 school year? Will class sizes go up? Will fewer courses be offered?
For some students, paying the bills will also be made more difficult.
The province announced changes to financial aid, removing the former Liberal government’s “free tuition” program for students from lower income households and returning to a program with a higher proportion of loans.
The auditor general had found that the Liberal’s program was expensive and increased enrolment only two per cent.
While the lowered tuition fees will help make higher education more accessible to all, transitioning many students from grants to loans seems likely to do just the opposite.
At Fleming, more than 4,100 students receive some level of financial support.
The government has indicated that changes will be made to Ontario Student Assistance Program to ensure it helps those most in need, designating more of its grants to students from households earning $50,000 or less.
According to reporting by the Toronto Star, “under the changes, students from the lowest-income families will qualify for non-repayable grants, though part of their student aid will also include a repayable loan.”
Additionally, the six-month interest-free period for recent graduates will no longer be interest free.
While the cost of education may be going down, some students’ ability to pay those lower costs will also be affected.
We live in a country and an economy that requires post-secondary education for a high percentage of jobs – many of them paying modest salaries. A high school diploma for many employers is not enough.
If we want to ensure that high school students today have the best chance at getting a job and contributing to our economy, we need to invest more in our education system, and greatly lessen the debt burden on students.
Cuts to funding for schools and student grants is going in the wrong direction.