Tuition grant ready for January

It sounds too good to be true. A 30 per cent tuition grant, which roughly translates to $1,600 off any dependent student’s tuition, whose parents make under $160,000, is to be set in motion this January 2012.
But it is true.

The Ontario Liberal party, led by premier Dalton McGuinty, who promised this post secondary tuition grant if elected, were in fact elected this past October and seem to be living up to their promises. “I’m torn between being really excited and not letting myself believe it yet,” said third-year student Alexandra Rollinson. “I work part time so this would really help my financial situation.”

Sean Madden, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) said, “Surprisingly, still not that many people know about it. But people are excited when we explain it, absolutely. They get pretty pumped when we tell them.”

And who wouldn’t? It is doubtful that any student dealing with increased tuition prices would turn their noses down at a sizable reduction to their tuition. The only limitations are in qualifying — but even those are not the typical requirements expected by students.

“Well I’d say it’s great if it’s actually going to happen,” said third-year Queen’s student Thomas Bailey. “Because it’s not really great to spend four years in university or college and then spending double that trying to pay it off. So in reality, any little bit helps.” In fact, according to Madden, about 85 per cent of dependent students can qualify for the grant.

The Ontario government considers an independent student to be anybody who has worked full time for two years, or has been out of high school for more than four — they don’t qualify.

“To qualify, you have to be a dependent student, so you have to fit that criteria. Your household income has to be less than $160,000 and you have to be a full-time student — or have 60 per cent of a full course load,” said Madden. “Anywhere from three to five [courses] is full time. And that’s for the purposes of OSAP and granting and stuff like that.”

“If you get OSAP,” he continued, “You can also apply for this grant. We like that it’s unhinged from OSAP because there were some concerns about participation rates and OSAP, and you don’t want people to take out a loan just to be eligible for the grant so we made sure it was unhinged.”

If all goes as planned, by 2012, students can opt-in for the grant online. “So for the first semester of 2012, reimbursement will probably be by cheque because it can’t be automatic,” Madden explained. “And it will likely be an Internet opt-in process.”

Madden did admit to some technical limitations to the grant such as the Canadian Revenue Agency denying the universities the authority to do the income check themselves but rather have it done by the government as a third party.

“Because of payment processes and timelines,” he said, “It’ll have to be a reimbursement [process] for the first bit. But we expect it to be fully functional September 2012.”

“We think it’s progressive in a lot of ways,” Madden added of OUSA’s stance on the proposed grant.

“One, it’s unhooked from OSAP which we like. Two, it still preserves tax credits. We’re not nuts about tax credits — that’s a whole other issue because tax credits don’t really help with upfront access. It really only benefits the wealthy at the time. That aside, we like the fact that tuition is being charged and then reimbursed as opposed to a tuition reduction.” This allows student to keep full effect of their tax credits which Madden said would be helpful upon graduation, easing the financial burden a little bit.

“I like that it’s targeted to those that need it most,” Madden said. “As opposed to across the board tuition reduction.”

Laurier student Greg Phillips voiced his concerns with the grant. “I heard in class that in the fine print it says that it’s possible it could come into effect by 2016. I’m sceptical — but still hopeful because it would be really helpful. But they’re pretty vague on the details and how plausible it actually is.”

Other concerns raised about the grant were related to the restrictions and qualifications.

“Some people felt it should have been an across the board tuition reduction for everybody,” Madden explained, “And that’s a fair argument. But I think this has quite a bit of positive impact for people who need it most.”

He continued to say, “Some of the typically underrepresented groups thought the program should be extended to them, i.e. anybody whose independent but has other pressures. We’d like to see the program extended to them, and we’ve brought that up with the government, but they want the grant to be exactly the election promise that they said.”

Madden did explain, however that the government does plan to address existing programming for underrepresented groups.

“The big job right now is to make sure that everyone is aware of the grant and does opt- in,” Madden said. “So that will be our big promotional activity. There’s going to be a roll out campaign and there will be a website.” Students can submit a hard application as well.

Leave a Reply