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[Photo © Hannah McElderry]

New changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) system could mean free tuition for more than 200,000 students beginning in the fall of 2017.

Among them is Brittanie Jonidi, who is a crown ward, the term for foster children in Ontario, meaning she is the legal responsibility of the government, until she is 25.

As a crown ward, Brittanie Jonidi already receives some funding for her education. [Photo © Hannah McElderry]

As a crown ward, Brittanie Jonidi already receives some funding for her education. [Photo © Hannah McElderry]

Jonidi is in her third year of Communications and Media Studies at Carleton University. While she says that finances weren’t the deciding factor in her pursuit of higher education, they have held her back from participating in extra elements, such as co-op programs.

As a crown ward, Jonidi already has half her tuition covered by grants. But with no other support, she currently has student debt from having to pay for the remainder of her tuition and living expenses.

“I think that [free tuition] would be really beneficial,” she said. “I’m not going to have anyone else to support me so I think that will help me a lot so I can focus on my studies instead of stressing about food or other expenses.”

OSAP encourages students to call their financial aid office to learn more about the program [Photo © Hannah McElderry]

OSAP encourages students to call their financial aid office to learn more about the program [Photo © Hannah McElderry]

Starting this year, independent students across Ontario or those whose parents earn less than $50,000 will be eligible for free tuition.

Jonidi plans to apply for this when OSAP application open in the spring.

On Feb. 8, 2017, Newmarket-Aurora MPP Chris Ballard and Education Minister Liz Sandals officially announced the new OSAP changes, highlighting free tuition for eligible students.

The announcement was held at a high school in Aurora, north of Toronto.

For the 2016-17 academic year the maximum amount of financial aid a single student could receive was $12,580. For mature students with children the amount is higher. With the new system the maximum amount for single students will be $13,260. For students whose parents’ income is less than $50,000, they will receive enough grants to cover the average cost of tuition.

Because it’s a grant, students will not have to pay back this money, as they do with OSAP loans.

The new OSAP changes also include providing larger grants to students from middle-class families and providing more support for mature and married students, with the overall goal of reducing the provincial debt for all OSAP students by 80 per cent.

In a press release from the province, Deb Matthews, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, explained the motivation for the new program.

“Attending college or university should be based on a student’s potential and not on their ability to pay. That’s why we’re moving ahead with the most ambitious reforms of student assistance in North America,” she said.

The program is aiming to change the fact that some students in Ontario don’t apply for college or university because they worry about the cost.

(1) Number of borrowers who received OSAP in 2012-13 and did not receive OSAP in 2013-14.
(2) Number of borrowers from (1) who received repayment assistance between the end of their 2012-13 studies and July 2015.

Patricia Palichuk, from the Office of Chris Ballard said in an email that “[w]e know that currently in Ontario, students from the lowest-income families are about four times less likely to go on to postsecondary education than those from the highest-income families. That leaves a lot of potential that we’re wasting.”

Students who are attending college or university in September 2017 will be the first to benefit from this program. Applications for OSAP will open in the spring.

4th year of J-School at Carleton University

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