OSAP fails the needs of students

A student who relies solely on OSAP is
required to live well below the
poverty line.

There is no doubt that a university degree will enhance your life long after your dorm room days are over. 

Not only will your life be augmented by the knowledge and critical thinking skills that you develop, but it is estimated that on average university graduates earn $745,000 more in a lifetime than someone whose highest level of education is a high school diploma.

 It is this promise of a better future that inspires us to work tirelessly to finish assignments and prepare for examinations. 

Yet the true challenge for many is simply accessing the post-secondary system to begin with. 

Although the benefits of a university degree may outweigh the costs, for too many of us these costs are exceedingly difficult to afford.

 With the ever-rising price of tuition, books, rent, bills, and of course food, the cost of studying full-time has risen to a level that is certainly unattainable without financial support from our parents or some form of student financial aid.

 This is where the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) comes in. However, OSAP does not cover the entire cost of education. In fact, a student who relies solely on OSAP is required to live well below the poverty line.

 For many students, there is a plethora of grants and bursaries that will offset the costs of education, some of which may eliminate the unmet need of OSAP. 

However, the fact remains that OSAP issues a maximum of $11,900 for an eight-month study period. For an independent student living away from home, the estimated cost of education is approximately $17,400.

Furthermore, the poverty line for a single independent individual in Waterloo is approximately $18,147 based on low income cut-offs.

 This means that there is a significant gap between the amount granted by OSAP and what is required for a student to live and study.

The belief is that students can simply find employment during the four-month break they are not in school to earn enough to pay for the year-round costs of living.

Or can they?

This past summer, the student unemployment rate reached an all-time high of 20.9 per cent.

If one in five students is unable to find employment over summer, how are students to address this gap?

They can just work while they study, right? Unfortunately, this is not a reasonable solution, because of a specific clause in OSAP.

OSAP limits the amount of income that a student can attain to $50 a week. If a student earns over the $50 a week threshold OSAP will actually “claw-back” their funding. 

This equates to a limit of approximately $1,700. 

Financial insecurity and systematic poverty should not be among the stresses students face. 

Our financial aid system should be providing us with peace of mind, not added uncertainty.

Our government must act immediately to abolish, or at least increase, the limit of in-study income in recognition of the current climate of student employment opportunities. 

Further, our government must update our OSAP maximums to better provide for the needs of students.

Our OSAP system is outdated and inadequate, and our students are suffering the consequences.