The academic school year has already started, but students are still unsure of whether they can continue to afford their post-secondary studies in light of the $600 million cut to the OSAP program.

Before the Progressive Conservative government stepped in last year, the Liberal government had the OSAP program sending 76 per cent of their grants to students from families making $50,000 or less a year. With this structure, many students from low-income families were able to have a tuition-free year.

So, when the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced on January 17, 2019, that they would restrict the Ontario Student Grant to students who show they have financial need, reclassify what makes an independent student, and eliminate the six-month interest-free grace period, students were understandably surprised.

When the 2019-2020 academic year drew near and OSAP balances started rolling in, students were even more surprised to see how drastically the OSAP changes would affect them financially.

Students who qualify as needing financial aid received a combination of loans and grants, while students who were once classified as being independent students now get the same amount of loans and grants that students living with their families receive. 

After the news broke, students began to protest both online and outside Queen’s Park. A plead for the government’s reconsideration of the OSAP structure was presented by political parties in the summer, including the Ontario Liberal Party.

On August 27, Michael Coteau, the MPP for Don Valley East and a member of the Ontario Liberal Party, sent an open letter to the Ontario government, specifically addressing the minister for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano, asking the government to face the decline of post-secondary enrollment in Ontario.           

“If enrolment decline is as drastic as is widely indicated through available evidence across the sector, this represents a catastrophic failure that will impact thousands of students, particularly low-income students,” says Coteau in the open letter.

“Thousands of students have reportedly switched to part-time studies or dropped out of school entirely. Others are searching for work—sometimes a second or third job, sometimes as a single parent already challenge d to make the arrangements needed to obtain post-secondary education—to make up the gap your cuts have caused.”

UTM is one of the many post-secondary institutions in which students are struggling to manage this new financial burden created by the government’s decision.

Alongside the Student Choice Initiative, the OSAP cuts were a big change as well,” said UTMSU President Atif Abdullah in an interview with The Medium. “We’re hearing so many heart-breaking stories of students who are not able to come back or now have to get extra jobs or go part-time because they can’t afford the new changes.”

Sharing his own struggle on paying tuition with the new OSAP restrictions and grant cut-backs, Abdullah says that “even for myself, I come from a family of having three other siblings who go to post-secondary at the same time. So, in one year we pay, collectively, quite a bit of tuition— somewhere around $50,000 a year.”

“How are our students going to adapt?” Abdullah concluded.

So, The Medium went out and asked students how they are adapting to the OSAP changes put forward by the Progressive Conservative government.

Marie Villanueva, a fourth year UTM student studying English, art, and art history, told The Medium that “the OSAP cuts are not only negatively affecting me, but my family as well.”

“There was a point where I almost decided to take time off from school and work just to save up enough to continue studying,” she continued. “However, because my parents are retiring soon, more pressure is placed on me to finish school faster.”

“When I found out that I was not getting funding from OSAP, I was wondering how I could finish school fast enough if I wouldn’t be able to go. I decided the best thing to do for now is to work part-time while I’m still in school—now I’m worried about how to balance the two,” continued Villanueva.

“As for my parents, they’re worried about how to cover other expenses since my tuition has become an even bigger cost […] Their income is just enough to cover living expenses such as mortgage and property tax.”

While Villanueva’s situation is common among students following the OSAP cut-backs, there are students from low-income families who have benefited greatly from the OSAP changes.

For the 2019-2020 academic year she received $12,000 in total from OSAP in a combination of loans and grants. From Western university, she received a bursary of $9,400.

Whether the results of the OSAP changes is likened by students in Ontario the new OSAP structure is well under way and will likely continue until June 2022, when the 43rd Ontario general election will decide the new or renewed provincial party.

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