Affordability of Postsecondary Education in Ontario
Students in Ontario currently pay the highest tuition rates in Canada. The average Ontario university tuition is close to $9,000 while the average 2018-19 college tuition is $3,400. Over 20 different Ontario degree programs charge students over $15,000 per year.
These high tuitions have, in part, been subsidized by programs initiated by the previous government. Under the previous government families making as much as $175,000 per year still received Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) funding.
In her 2018 Report, Ontario's Auditor General further noted that, despite the previous government allowing the price tag of OSAP to balloon to over $2 billion dollars, there was no appreciable improvement to postsecondary accessibility over the same time frame.
Lowering tuition rates by 10 per cent for all students at every publicly-funded college and university in Ontario
Ontario's Government for the People is taking steps to lower tuition and give students more choice over the fees they pay at school.
The government's tuition reduction for 2019-20 represents the first time Ontario student tuition rates have decreased across all funding-eligible programs. The new tuition framework will also freeze tuition fees for the 2020-21 school year.
A tuition reduction means that money stays in the pockets of Ontario's students and their families. On average, students attending college will see a tuition reduction of approximately $340 and students in university enrolled in an undergraduate arts and science degree will see a tuition reduction of $660, resulting in roughly $450 million in tuition relief for Ontario students.
Many students completing a university professional or graduate degree will see tuition reductions in excess of $1,000.
The new framework provides institutions with multi-year predictability so they can plan and innovate to ensure quality is maintained while looking for efficiencies. The government will administer a fund to help smaller, Northern institutions adjust to the tuition reduction.
Giving students more choice over the fees they pay
Students pay fees in addition to tuition. The number of fees and whether or not students can opt-out varies widely among institutions. These additional fees can cost students approximately several hundred dollars to $2,000 per academic year. The added costs can include a wide range of expenses such as student handbooks, non-student related organizations, or club fees.
To ensure transparency, choice and ease of decision-making, Ontario is introducing a plan to ensure non-tuition student fees are clearly communicated and give students choice regarding where their money is spent. Going forward, institutions will be required to provide an online opt-out option for all non-essential non-tuition fees.
Fees used to fund major, campus-wide services and facilities or fees which contribute to the health and safety of students are deemed mandatory, and will remain a part of the fee structure. Essential campus initiatives include: walksafe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation and academic support.
Restoring financial sustainability to OSAP
Under the previous government, OSAP had grown into a program that was fiscally unsustainable. A recent report from the Auditor General notes that by 2020-21 OSAP could cost the province over $2 billion - a 50 per cent net increase from spending in 2016-17. In fact, the cost of OSAP is already $2 billion in 2018-19 alone. The Auditor General's report also highlighted concerns with the way OSAP was administered under the previous government. The report supports the urgent need for financial sustainability, so future generations of Ontario's students can access financial support for postsecondary education.
"... more people are not necessarily accessing post-secondary education. We noted that the increase in enrolment is only 1% for universities and 2% for colleges, indicating that the number of people accessing higher education is not commensurate with the additional OSAP funding." (Auditor General's Report, page 456)
"We noted that the number of students who had been out of high school for at least four years and who received OSAP increased 33% from the 2016/17 to 2017/18 academic years, and that close to 30% of them said on their applications that they were living with their parents. The Ministry did not know whether the students actually needed OSAP support."(Auditor General's Report, page 457)
"The changes to OSAP that took effect in 2017/18 cost considerably more than the Province anticipated, and will likely continue to cost more in the next few years." (Auditor General's Report, page 467)
For the 2019-20 school year, OSAP will:
- Continue to provide grants to students with the greatest financial need;
- Ensure that students who receive OSAP are those who have shown they have financial need and eliminate the non-needs-based portion of the Ontario Student Grant;
- Increase the share of funds going to low income families from 69 to 72 per cent;
- Ensure 82 per cent of grants will go to students with a family income of less than $50,000, up from 76 per cent under the previous government;
- Reduce the family income thresholds associated with eligibility for the Ontario Student Grant, provide some provincial loans to low-income students and increase the per-term cap for the Ontario Student Loan;
- Base the calculation for student financial assistance on a contribution from students that reflects the recent increase to minimum wage and increase and restore parental contribution rates back to 2017-18 amounts;
- Make the computer allowance reflect a one-time purchase, rather than an expense eligible for each year of study;
- Change the definition of independent student for Ontario aid to a student who has been out of school for six years, up from four years, with parental income factored into the OSAP needs assessment for students up to six years out of high school, to address concerns outlined in the recent Auditor General's report;
- Change the grant-to-loan ratio to a minimum of 50 per cent loan from Ontario for students in second-entry programs (e.g. post-graduate college certificates, graduate degrees, law, etc.) at publicly-assisted Ontario institutions and for students attending institutions outside of Ontario;
- Maintain the current $25,000 annual income threshold for the Repayment Assistance Plan, ensuring that students can get on their feet after school before they need to start repaying their loan; and
- Align Ontario's repayment terms with that of the federal government by charging interest during the six-month grace period, to reduce complexity for students.