Ontario has student aid backwards

Why is increasing student debt more important than lowering tuition?

A series of adjustments made to the Ontario Student Assistance Program this week are really just raising the bar to service enjoyed in other provinces and doesn’t even come close to the assistance provided in the rest of the country, Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular.

While it’s great to see Ontario’s student assistance finally standing in line with the rest of the country, having six months interest-free after graduation is not going to make much a difference when you’re already going to be repaying debt for many years.

In August 2009, the Newfoundland and Labrador government eliminated interest on student loans entirely. The province later said that students in repayment during the first year of the program collectively saved $5 million.

“By eliminating interest rate charges, the provincial government has responded to a call by students and graduates who are struggling to pay off their student loans,” Daniel Smith, Newfoundland and Labrador chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said in a press release on Aug. 2. “Increased funding to improve access and reduce student debt is a sound investment in the collective future of our province.”

A tuition freeze as well as non-repayable grants are also a reality in Newfoundland and Labrador. That, to me, seems like a province taking their future seriously.

Meanwhile, the Ontario government’s post-secondary plan has been a little contradictory this year.

Back in March, the government announced it would allow tuition to continue to rise at the maximum of five per cent for the next two years. Now they are pretending to help students pay for it by making it easier for them to take on debt.

Rather than earmarking an additional $81 million for student aid in the province, Ontario might have taken a progressive stand on the matter and introduced another tuition freeze for less than that amount. Not to mention using the extra money that “streamlining the process will save,” which is estimated at “more than 10,000 work hours in student aid offices, improve efficiency in evaluating and processing applications, and reduce back-to-school line-ups.”

In a province with the highest average tuition in the country, bringing the initial price tag in line with the rest of the country should be a bigger priority than making it easier to increase student debt.

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