“free” tuition a cheap solution to an expensive problem
“Congratulations, you’re approaching the end of your school year! Now, it’s time to start thinking about your future plans.”
It’s the dreaded email from the National Student Loans Service Centre (NSLSC), the overarching Canadian distributor of student loans. Like nearly every student’s most hated best friend, it’s the financial resource that keeps us afloat throughout our post-secondary studies, but then after graduation, becomes a heavyweight of debt threatening to drown us.
Though the email sounds friendly, I know better than to get excited. In a few more words, I’ll be notified of the mountain of debt I’m expected to start repaying in a matter of months. While I’ve been expecting this for some time, I can’t help but feel slightly bitter.
The email comes just weeks after the Ontario provincial government announced its decision to create the Ontario Student Grant, a new program that will make university and college “free” for low-income students. Under the program next year, students from households that make less than $50,000 annually will pay no tuition, while half of those from families making less than $83,000 will also be exempt.
The grant will go into effect in 2017.
I was one of many who initially applauded the decision but then quickly became skeptical. Seeming too good to be true, many were quick to point out the loopholes in the government’s new plan. First, there was the word itself: “free.” Contrary to the announcement, tuition will not be free but in reality, students who qualify will still likely be forced to pay some $3,000 in fees. The Wynne government also underestimated the cost of average tuition in Ontario- quoting it at $6,160, according to Statistics Canada, this average is actually $7,858. With a difference of more than $1,500, it seems the government is only budgeting for the least expensive degrees and diplomas.
And of course, the million-dollar question: Who will pay for this new grant?
Perhaps the greatest issue with “free” tuition though, is its creation of a two-tiered system in which students who qualify are exempt from the ever-rising costs of a post-secondary education, while those who do not, are left fending for themselves. And this burden will only get heavier: with provincial funding for universities decreasing, annual tuition fees are expected to surpass $9,500 in 2018.
Though the government says it aims to level the playing field for all Canadian students, in actuality, it has done the exact opposite. For students like myself who would never qualify for “free” tuition, this new grant has put us at the lower level of a two-tiered system.
Rather than offering “free” tuition to some and not others, the provincial government should strive to increase general funding for post-secondary education. In recent years the government has introduced measures to assist students with fees, but similar to “free” tuition, there are many loopholes. For example, Ontario’s 30 per cent tuition cut for undergraduates applies only to students whose parents make $160,000 a year or less, and those who graduated from high school less than five years prior.
These shortsighted fixes are nothing more than Band-Aids placed on gaping wounds. In Ontario, where tuition fees are higher than that of any other province, it’s time the government replaced student loans with more grants.
After all, if university and college were more affordable, there would be less need for “free” tuition.
Future changes to Ontario’s educational system won’t affect me; the government has made it clear that for those who graduate before 2017, they’re out of luck. But as I mull over how exactly I am going to repay my near $50,000 in student debt, my feelings of bitterness are hard to swallow.
Education is a right that for many students is threatened by rising tuition costs.
“Free” tuition isn’t a solution, but another one of Ontario’s Band-Aid solutions.
But that’s just According to Adrienne.