Munching on cafeteria fare in Laurentian University's great hall, Darquise Laroque ponders how the province's new Ontario Tuition Grant Program can help her make ends meet.
The program, which goes into effect this semester, takes $1,600 off of university students' yearly tuition, and $730 off of college students' yearly tuition.
These grants represent 30 per cent of the average tuition fees paid by university and college students in Ontario.
Laroque, who is in her second year in Laurentian's autophonie (speech therapy) program, said she's already borrowed about $20,000 from OSAP to pay for school.
If she goes on to earn a master's degree, she expects to be about $60,000 in debt by the time she's finished her education.
“I think (the new program) will help students to pay their tuition,” Laroque, who said she works two jobs during the school year, said. “Some students can't even afford to go to school.”
Although second-year Laurentian history student Louis-Phillipe Desjardins said he doesn't qualify for the program himself, he said it's “great news” for fellow students.
“I know for a fact that for many students, it's a struggle to make ends meet while working and studying,” he said. “It's going to give a lot of relief for most students. It's a big plus.”
More than 300,000 undergraduate students are eligible to receive the grant this year. Students who receive OSAP loans are automatically considered.
Students with disabilities may receive the grant for up to six years.
The Canadian Federation of Students isn't so impressed with the tuition grant program, however.
The organization said in a press release the government has “broken a promise to deliver a 30-per-cent tuition fee reduction.”
“The government is instead offering a grant of less than 25 per cent of average undergraduate tuition fees, for which more than half of Ontario students are ineligible,” the press release said.
There are some 900,000 post-secondary school students in the province, but only around 300,000 will be eligible for the grant.
“Students are calling on McGuinty to keep his election promise and deliver a tuition fee reduction to all students.”
Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci said the program ensures the ability to receive a post-secondary education is “not based on your ability to pay, it's based on your ability to learn.
“Seven out of 10 jobs in the future are going to require some form of post-secondary education,” Bartolucci said, speaking to reporters after announcing the program at Laurentian Jan. 5.
“We want to ensure there's an affordability factor for students who come from middle-income families.”
When asked how the province, which is struggling to bring a large deficit under control, will afford the new tuition grants, he said government officials will find internal savings to pay for the program.
Bartolucci could not give an exact figure as to how much the program will cost.
“That would depend certainly on the amount of students who apply,” he said.
Robert Kerr, vice-president academic at Laurentian University, said any program which improves access to post-secondary education is “great, great news.”
“I think the fact that we've now expanded the number of students who have the opportunity to get some assistance, that's very positive,” he said.
“This is not only going to the OSAP students, but an equivalent number of students who currently don't receive OSAP now will also be getting some help. Obviously that's a positive step forward.”
Denis Hubert-Dutrisac, president of Collège Boréal, said he's “extremely happy” about the tuition grant program.
“I know the reaction of the students at our college was very, very good,” he said.
Collège Boréal is also able to help its students out with 2,000 scholarships and bursaries per year thanks to a provincial government program called the Student Opportunity Trust Fund.
This fund matches, dollar for dollar, funds donated to scholarships and bursaries. Hubert-Dutrisac said the college now has $10 million in its scholarship and bursary fund, thanks to this program.
Shawn Poland, associate vice-president for advancement at Cambrian College, said the new tuition grants are especially good news for his institution, as 40 per cent of Cambrian students come directly from high school.
For more information about applying for the grant, visit www.ontario.ca/30off.
Posted by Arron Pickard