Photo by Kyle West
Disclaimer: This piece was written prior to the changes made on Jan. 17 by the Ford provincial government regarding tuition for postsecondary education. Changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program include increasing the length of time students must have graduated high school to qualify as an independent student from four to six years, removal of the grace period for repayment of loans upon graduation, and removal of many grants for lower-income students. Read the provincial government’s statement here: https://news.ontario.ca/maesd/en/2019/01/affordability-of-postsecondary-education-in-ontario.html
The Ontario Student Assistance Program, a financial aid program offered through the provincial government, has helped many Ontario students get through university. OSAP offers funding through grants and student loans, and can be used to help offset the cost of tuition and school-related expenses.
Almost all Ontario residents may apply for OSAP but the amount of aid offered to each individual is dependent on the individual’s education expenses, course load, and personal financial situation. This last factor essentially boils down to your family’s income. If your family makes enough money deemed by the government to sufficiently cover educational expenses, then this renders you ineligible to collect OSAP.
While this appears to favour students from low-income households, as it should, it neglects the possibility of students from high-income households where parents do not or cannot pay for tuition. There are many reasons why this occurs ranging from the parents’ genuine inability to allocate funds for their children’s education to refusing on the grounds of principle. Though these students truly demonstrate financial need, their concerns often go unrecognized.
As these students are not able to collect OSAP, they typically have to work several part-time jobs to pay for tuition, or try their luck at applying for private loans that do not carry the benefits of student loans like interest relief during schooling and grace periods after graduation.
As of now, the only way to receive OSAP if you are from a high-income family is to be considered an independent student with an income below what the government deems as excessive or to declare a family breakdown. To be considered an independent student, one must meet several criteria. For example, both your parents must be deceased, you’ve worked full-time for at least 24 months in a row, or you’ve been out of high school for four or more years.
These provisions show the assumption of the provincial government that parents will support their children for four years of postsecondary education. This often false assumption also has no rational grounds; why the decision for a seemingly arbitrary four years? What occurs only after four years from high school that makes someone financially independent?
The alternative, to declare a family breakdown, is also insufficient. To declare a family breakdown renders you an independent student but you must show proof of estrangement from your parents “due to documented mental, physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse or drug or alcohol addiction in your family”. This provision is too narrowed and does not reflect the many other reasons that parents may be unwilling or unable to support their children’s postsecondary education expenses. Your parents could very well be supporting you, just not financially.
Rather than requiring students to jump through hoops to receive aid, there should be an honour system for students applying for OSAP. If students claim that they are financially independent from their parents, they should be believed at face-value. Perhaps the stipulation can be a restriction for these applicants to receive student loans only, so that grants can be reserved for students from lower-income families.
There will undoubtedly be individuals that misuse such an honour system. But is the potential for misuse strong enough cause to warrant not supporting individuals who could legitimately benefit from such an option? That’s subject to debate.