How Ontario's "Free Tuition" Proposal Would Work
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How Ontario’s “Free Tuition” Proposal Would Work

Geared for low-income students, the proposal consolidates and simplifies existing OSAP grants and programs.

The Ontario government is moving to make tuition free for students in financial need.

The plan, announced Thursday by Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa, would overhaul the grant and loan system currently in place and overseen by the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

The proposed changes would streamline existing loans and grants that students often find difficult to navigate, make funding more accessible, and dramatically alter a program that plays a key role in funding the post-secondary education of close to 375,000 Ontario students.

Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, the government proposes to redirect 100 per cent of funding from existing grants into a new funding structure called the Ontario Student Grant (OSG). The existing handful of grants that currently offer support for students with disabilities, those returning to school with dependants, and those heading to a postsecondary institution after taking time off after high school will be worked into the new OSG.

The result is that students from families who earn less than $50,000 annually will now receive more in grants and non-repayable loans than the cost of their tuition—roughly $2,700 per year for college diplomas and $6,200 each year for those pursuing university degrees. The program changes will effectively make tuition cost-free for eligible students.

“We know that people from low-income families do not pursue a postsecondary education education as much as others because they think they cannot afford it,” Sousa told the House in introducing the budget bill.

While post-secondary enrolment has increased in Ontario over the past 12 years by 38 per cent, potential students from families earning less than $30,000 have just a 38 per cent likelihood of attending college or university. That same student, if their family earned more than $100,000 each year, has a 63 per cent chance of getting a postsecondary education.

The Liberals also plan to increase the number and volume of grants and non-repayable loans for middle-class students from families earning $83,000 or less, the Ontario median total economic family income. They predict that 50 per cent of students in this income bracket will receive funding that meets or exceeds their tuition needs.

More than 375,000 Ontario students currently take advantage of grants and loans through the old OSAP model. But ministry officials told Torontoist they anticipate the new funding regime will make postsecondary education accessible for an additional 25,000 students.

According to the Finance Ministry, the new OSG structure will leave students with less debt that they would have under the old system, especially with OSAP debt levels capped at $10,000 annually.

“It gives us great pleasure to announce that these students will have no provincial student debt,” Sousa said. “It means more young people will be better educated, better prepared to work and more young people will be better able to provide a better quality of life for their families.”