There’s been a lot of media furor and hubbub surrounding the Ford government’s recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) since they were announced back on January 17th.
Despite a 10% cut in tuition costs, many students were still upset with the changes and took to social media to express their disappointment with the new OSAP rules. The mainstream press took notice and soon a litany of stories came flooding out decrying the government’s “cuts” to education.
The Toronto Star ran a story titled “Students demand Ford government reverse course on OSAP changes.” CTV published a piece called “Students demand Ford government halt OSAP cuts.” A CBC headline read “’We need free education’: U Windsor students rally against OSAP changes.”
I could go on, but I think the point has been made. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say.
A step in the right direction
While there are certainly things to critique about this decision from the Ford government, even speaking as a student myself, I still find that on the whole, this was a step in the right direction.
The OSAP program, as it previously existed, was inefficient and unsustainable. The Auditor General said as much in her December 2018 report when she noted a 50% increase in OSAP costs from 2016-17 to 2017-18.
Already now, in the 2018-19 school year, the program has ballooned to $2 billion and showed no signs of slowing down before the recent changes. With the province already $322 billion in the hole, the need for financial reform in the provincial expenditures has never been greater.
Greater support for low income students
However, the importance of education and the need for financial assistance for lower income students still remains. Providing the next generation with the opportunity to educate themselves and obtain the skills needed to function in the twenty first century workplace is a worthwhile investment of hard earned taxpayer dollars and should be distributed only to those who truly are in need of them.
The PC’s decision to cap the grant portion of OSAP to families with a household income of $140,000 per year or less, does just that. Previously, under the Liberal government, students living in households that made as much as $170,000 per year were eligible to receive grants. Now, these grants will be redirected to lower income students, with students with a family income of $50,000 or less will receive 82% of the grants, up from 76% under the previous government.
However, despite the increase in grants to lower income students and the 10% reduction in tuition across the board, saving the average university student $660 and the average college student $340, not all the changes will be saving students money.
The Ford government reduced the grant to loan ratio to make it that so that students could no longer receive more in grants than loans. So, even if you’re a student from a low income family, the actual amount of free money you get (ie. grants) may actually go down, despite the percentage of grants to low income students increasing.
The six month grace period isn’t going away
In addition to the reduction in overall grants, the interest free grace period the province formerly provided is now being scrapped in order to “reduce complexity for students.” Out of all the changes, this is the one that really seemed to anger students. However, there seems to be a lot of confusion about this point.
While the ‘reduced complexity’ argument from the province is a paper thin excuse — it’s just a nice little cash grab — the reality is that the interest on the federal part of your loan was already accruing and so now the interest on the provincial portion will also begin to accrue right after you finish school, albeit at a slightly lower rate.
However, this does not mean you will have to begin paying it back right away. The interest accrued during that six month period will be rolled into your overall debt and you will start to pay it back after the six month grace period expires.
Don’t get me wrong, this part still sucks, but it’s not like the Ford government is changing the rules so that you have no time to find a job and start paying back your debt. The six month grace period still exists and if you’re still without a job or an income of over 25,000 annually at the end of it, you can apply for an extension or a reduced monthly payment.
OSAP is still a very generous program
Overall though, between the tuition reduction and the new freedom to not pay student union dues or other non essential fees, the cost of your education will most likely going down or stay about the same, depending on the size of your loans and how long it takes for you to pay them off.
While not all these changes are helpful for students, if you want to see OSAP survive for the long term, many of them were necessary. Especially when you consider the amount of money spent on post secondary education in other countries, we should all be thankful that we live in province and a country that still provides a very generous amount of support for education.
A couple of relatively minor changes to OSAP isn’t going to be the end of the world. Settle down, quit your pointless demonstrating, study hard and get to work.