Ontario Liberals announce "free tuition” for low, middle-income students
Hamilton area Liberals and post-secondary officials celebrated the Ontario government’s 2016 budget announcement that the government will be providing “free tuition” for over 150,000 low and middle-income students to enroll in a post-secondary institution beginning in the 2017-18 school year.
But the “free tuition” doesn’t cover all the costs of going to school, and it only applies to full-time students in an arts or science program.
“It is free,” said Hamilton Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin, who accompanied Eleanor McMahon Burlington Liberal MPP to McMaster Innovation Park March 31 for the announcement. “If you are in a medical program and tuition is $12,000, it’s not free.”
But McMeekin said that only about 1.2 per cent of students who enroll in specialized programs will have to pay for their tuition. He said about 80 per cent of students who attend college or university, with family incomes below $83,000 or less will have their tuition covered entirely.
“It’s good we are removing barriers,” he said.
Ron McKerlie, president of Mohawk College, said about 6,200 of the school’s 20,000 students relies on the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). He said by amalgamating all the grants and tax credits into the Ontario Student Program, it will “help to offset the cost of going to college.
“Most students don’t have the dream today of pursuing a post-secondary education,” said McKerlie. “For them this is life-changing. Most of our students would have to defer or cancel their dreams of earning an education.”
The Liberals have stated that no student will receive less than what they currently receive in grants. The government has identified the average tuition for college as $2,768 and the average university tuition as $6,160 for arts and science.
Luke Baylis, president of Mohawk Student Association, said students “can’t wait to see how it will impact” them.
“It will be great for the economy, great for Hamilton, great for Mohawk,” he said. “Post-secondary education in Ontario is moving from a privilege to a right and that is what is should be.”
Still, some students will still have to pay about $3,000 annually such as living expenses to attend a post-secondary institution, say Liberal officials.
The Liberals expect to raise the funds by cancelling the tuition tax credit and the education tax credit in 2017 saving about $145 million. The money will be redirected into the Ontario Student Grant. It is unknown how the government will pay for the program after the initial year.
The Liberals say that about 80 per cent of OSAP recipients or 250,000 students will end up with lower student debt, while 300,000 students will receive the same level of grant support or more because of the changes. There were 36,262 students in the Hamilton/Burlington area attending a post-secondary institution.
McMahon said the grants will be indexed to inflation so when tuition goes up, the grants will also increase.
“All students regardless of their background or size of their parents’ paycheck should be able to afford college and university,” said McMahon. “This is no better way to lift people out of poverty than a dream of an education.”