Learn more about the NEW Ontario Student Grant program!

Submitted by Natasha Pei on April 27, 2017 - 4:17am

In this webinar, the United Way of Toronto and York Region's Pedro Barata discusses with the Honourable Deb Matthews, Deputy Premier and Minister for Advanced Education and Skills Development, how the new Ontario Student Grant is coming together to provide free or reduced cost tuition for low and moderate income families. 

Watch the recording here:

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Your questions asked, your questions answered! 
Find highlights from the webinar here:

 

The Goal

The goal of the provincial government is to provide students access education that will allow them to achieve their full potential. Financial support isn't the only barrier to accessing post-secondary education, but it is a big factor. Research shows that people in low-income families are much less likely to participate in post-secondary. The new Ontario Student Grant program is really being driven in an attempt to achieve better outcomes for our (public) investments. The current Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) is very generous, but difficult to understand and navigate. This new program is an overhaul and expansion of the current system to better achieve our outcomes. 

 

The Collaborative Process

  • The most important point, is that the impetus for this program came from outside of the government. It is really a result of advocacy groups understanding the fiscal reality of the government, and making recommendations within their purview. Specifically, students were the ones to get the ball rolling. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) presented a strong proposal that recognized the province did not have a lot of extra money to spend, but showed them how they were spending the same student aid in the wrong places. 
  • With the appointment of Minister Matthews to the Treasury Board and a mandate to get the province's budget back to balanced, she and her team conducted a program review that identified 'boulders', where, if ministries worked together, they could achieve better outcomes with the same or less money. 
  • The conclusions drawn from the review was that under the current system, they were spending hundreds of millions of dollars on supports that weren't there when people needed them, and were going to higher-income families.
  • It was recognized they could create a much better system if they all worked together. Therefore, the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Tax Credits, and Ministry of Colleges & University collaborated and revised the system so that the money going towards tax credits would be rerouted into this new program to support students on low-income (under $50,000).

 

Making the Case

 The research and proposal itself made the case. The same amount of money is being repurposed from tax credit spending, so that people are able to use the financial support when they need it.

There were concerns about taking the tax credit away, but evidence shows that that money was going to people who have sufficient income, and that the program was not achieving the overall results they were aiming to. Once people saw the possibilities of the program they became very supportive.

From an economic perspective, we (Canadians) are competing on the world stage based on the knowledge and skills of our population. Having a highly-educated, literate population is something we should all be striving towards.


Comprehensive Poverty Reduction Plans Working In-Tandem with Increased Access to Higher Education

Research shows the best way to break the cycle of poverty is through education, therefore the first poverty reduction strategy was focused on improving the situation for children. While this new grant program is a great strategy for assisting people who have made it through the primary and secondary school system, there are barriers for students trying to achieving high school graduation as a pre-requisite of attending a post-secondary institution. The poverty reduction strategy addresses issues across the spectrum: early years education, closing the education-achievement gap and improving the home situation - stable housing, food security, issues of abuse, etc. 

This array of initiatives breaking down barriers to success means Ontarians are now seeing higher rates of high school achievement. 

In regards to closing the education-achievement gap, look at the report, Building the Workforce of Tomorrow: A Shared Responsibility, on creating a highly skilled workforce. It is a call-to-action for everyone - government, businesses, and communities - to help create a better integrated learning and working system. Business needs to come into the post-secondary arena, and the post-secondary sector needs to go into the business sector more. With proper consideration, every employer could take-on a co-op student. 

We need to support different higher education opportunities that train and develop a diversity of skilled workers. We need to fill the right jobs with the right people. For example, London, Ontario's IT sector has 400 vacant jobs. If they filled 400 jobs today, they'd have 400 new openings on Monday.

As a result of the Ontario Student Grant, some students will be the first in their family or community to attend a post-secondary institution, and the province will be working on developing supports to meet these new needs. 

Next Steps:

  • The government is working on consultations with different groups on implementation and getting the technical details right. 
  • The program will roll-out for students in the next year for the 2017-2018 academic year. 
  • In 2018-2019 there will be an online program available for the public to enter your net income and find out what your actual tuition will be (minus loans and grants).
  • There is some serious myth-busting to do and the government is asking for everyone's help! Many people in Ontario have the perception that post-secondary isn't an option they can be striving for. Therefore, we all need to talk about how students can go to post-secondary school, and will never be prevented from moving on as a result of affordability. 

 

Minister Matthews' Advice to People in Poverty Reduction Work:

Governments have competing demands to balance. This program came from advocacy groups understanding what the government's challenges are, and their proposed solution that took this reality into consideration. We need to make poverty reduction a priority for all voters and citizens, and politicians need to hear more frequently from people who are advocating this kind of work.

 

Need-to-Know Parameters of the Grant/Eligibility 

(Notean online calculator will be available to assist Ontarians with understanding eligibility criteria beginning in the 2018-2019 academic year:

  • The grant is for Ontario 'residents' attending a Canadian public post-secondary institution 
  • Mature students will be eligible for the grant the same way that dependent students are eligible, including adults with previous degrees.
  • The new grant, being the same as the current OSAP, will provide four years of financial support, regardless of which years or which degree. There will be some funding past the first four years, but it will not be as generous.
  • The grant is needs-based, meaning students with the lowest income will receive the most financial support. However, families with an income of up to $160,000 will still benefit.
  • Income assessment will be based on combined household income (regardless of how it is split)
  • There will be a reduction in the expected contribution amounts from parents and spouses
  • The maximum loan amount will be increased and indexed to inflation going forwards
  • Eligibility will run along a smooth gradation scale, so that financial aid does not drop steeply if the student's income increases slightly
  • The funding will cover the education experience - tuition, cost of living, and books. Students will be expected to contribute $3,000 to the overall cost. This contribution can be waived based on factors such as: having a dependent child, or the size of the family with other dependents attending post-secondary school
  • Other factors that will determine a student's total funding amount will include: going to school home or away, and the cost of the program
  • Students will not have to pay back the funding
  • The grant is go-forward, and does not work retroactively
  • Guidance Councillors, the frontline supports for secondary school children, will be provided with an app that will show them and their parents what their tuition will be, and how they will not incur debt to go to school


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