Not all students cheer on tuition grants

While some university students eagerly will welcome the extra money toward their education, others are upset by the narrow eligibility criteria of a new tuition grant – introduced by the provincial government this month and meant to cover 30 per cent of undergraduate tuition costs.

The grant’s eligibility criteria, according to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), further complicate an already problematic financial aid system, ensuring available funding is made unavailable to those that perhaps need it most.

Following the introduction of the grant last week, the federation issued a report outlining the problems with the grant’s exclusion of certain students. Among the categories cited were students who are independent from their parents; in second-entry programs; in graduate school; part-time; international students; not in good academic standing; coming from out-of-province.

“Excluding a lot of these students is a serious issue,” says Desiree Lamoreux, vice-president of student services for the Society of Graduate Students at The University of Western Ontario.

“The grant is a step in the right direction. But it isn’t helping every student, and a lot of students that thought they would get it, aren’t.”

Lamoreux, who also serves as the Ontario graduate caucus chair for CFS, says the provincial government overlooked crucial details in establishing the grant’s eligibility criteria.

“For one example, the students that don’t have good academic standing won’t be included. I can see the justification for that, but often, students who don’t have good marks are those who have to work full-time or part-time during (school) to cover tuition costs,” Lamoreux explains.

The CFS report also notes:

  • Students in professional, second-entry programs pay some of the highest tuition costs, often with no financial aid available. Because of their cost, professional programs are mostly inaccessible to students from low- or middle-income families;
  • Excluding independent students (44 per cent of whom qualify for other financial aid, including the Ontario Student Assistance Program) fails to take into account that these students are working, have no other means of support and are struggling to make ends meet;
  • Those who work after high school in order to save for high tuition costs are excluded because they aren’t entering university after graduation;
  • Part-time students don’t qualify for financial aid and are often studying part-time because they have to work to cover living expenses and tuition costs;
  • International students, who pay as much as three times the domestic cost of tuition and don’t qualify for some financial aid, also don’t qualify for the grant;
  • The grant also excludes and discourages students coming from out of province, and as such puts Ontario at a disadvantage in the knowledge-based economy;
  • Students whose parents make more than $160,000 don’t necessarily get help from their parents and could potentially benefit from the grant, too.

Lamoreux says these aren’t the only shortcomings.

“About $83 million from other grants will be transferred to this grant (to fund it). So those who once got the textbook grant won’t be getting it anymore. And some students who qualified for the (textbook grant), won’t qualify for the new grant,” she says.

The provincial government’s textbook and technology grant, worth $150, was available, through application, each year to full-time students at Ontario universities and colleges.

It was unfair of the provincial government to make promises to students during the fall election, without providing adequate information, she adds.

“Some students (may) have voted for a party thinking their (platform) would help them. But it seems the government wasn’t even sure how to implement this grant,” Lamoreux says. “Petitions have been given to Queens Park to take the $400 million and make it a blanket tuition reduction for all.”

Though there are more than 20 other scholarships and bursaries already available to Ontario students, Tanya Blazina, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities, says the ministry is always working to help students.

“The Minister is aware that there is still unmet need in Ontario, and the government is always looking at ways to improve accessibility and affordability of postsecondary education.”