Questions raised about provincial tuition cuts

St. Clair College President Patti France at the SportsPlex, January 18, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

The Ontario government says it is cutting tuition for post-secondary students, but students and educators have questions over how much they will actually save.

The government announced this week that domestic students at all colleges and universities receiving public funding in Ontario would have their tuition bills cut by 10 per cent, starting with the 2019-2020 academic year. This is the first time in Ontario history that a cut across all funding-eligible programs is being offered. But administration and students at many of Ontario colleges and universities believe that no matter how they slice it, there’s no guarantee that students will have more money in their pockets.

Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton said the tuition cut would help more students afford to attend college and university.

“We believe that if you’ve got the grades, you deserve access to affordable postsecondary education,” said Fullerton. “By lowering tuition across the entire province, our government is ensuring that all qualified Ontario students will have more affordable access to high-quality skills, training and education.”

Fullerton also said that the move would help divert OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) funding to those with the greatest financial need. The plan also will allow students to opt-out of certain fees if they believe they won’t be using those services, though fees pertaining to health and safety initiatives will still be required.

However, the plan is coming under fire in many circles. St. Clair College’s Student Representative Council has said the tuition cut would undoubtedly be beneficial for students who are trying to afford to go to a postsecondary school, but in a statement released Friday afternoon, SRC General Manager Ryan Peebles said the shortfall would likely be made up by changes to OSAP.

“You should know that changes being made to that provincial system will apply new restrictions to eligibility, the amounts of allocations, and the repayment schedule,” said Peebles. “Taken together, the “off-setting” combination of the tuition reduction and the OSAP changes will, in our opinion, carry little, in any, long-term benefit for students again, especially for those who rely upon student aid.”

Peebles also expressed concern over the opt-out component of the plan, believing that these fees should be mandatory.

“It appears to be the Ministry’s intention to define such items as the Student Activity Fee currently paid by St. Clair students as non-mandatory and ‘opt-out-able,’” said Peebles. “It seems that the Conservative government views student organizations such as the SRC, Student Athletic Association (SAA) and Alumni Association as “non-essential” to the operation of the college.”

St. Clair College President Patti France briefly discussed the tuition cut with reporters during an event at the Windsor campus Friday morning. She said the college was aware a cut, estimated at $3 million, would be coming, but they are taking a wait-and-see approach to see how ancillary fees, which pay for some materials and lab use, will be affected.