Photo by Kyle West

Disclaimer: This piece was written prior to the changes made on Jan. 17 by the Ford provincial government regarding tuition for postsecondary education. Changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program include increasing the length of time students must have graduated high school to qualify as an independent student from four to six years, removal of the grace period for repayment of loans upon graduation, and removal of many grants for lower-income students. Read the provincial government's statement here: https://news.ontario.ca/maesd/en/2019/01/affordability-of-postsecondary-education-in-ontario.html


 

The Ontario Student Assistance Program, a financial aid program offered through the provincial government, has helped many Ontario students get through university. OSAP offers funding through grants and student loans, and can be used to help offset the cost of tuition and school-related expenses.

Almost all Ontario residents may apply for OSAP but the amount of aid offered to each individual is dependent on the individual’s education expenses, course load, and personal financial situation. This last factor essentially boils down to your family’s income. If your family makes enough money deemed by the government to sufficiently cover educational expenses, then this renders you ineligible to collect OSAP.

While this appears to favour students from low-income households, as it should, it neglects the possibility of students from high-income households where parents do not or cannot pay for tuition. There are many reasons why this occurs ranging from the parents’ genuine inability to allocate funds for their children’s education to refusing on the grounds of principle. Though these students truly demonstrate financial need, their concerns often go unrecognized.

As these students are not able to collect OSAP, they typically have to work several part-time jobs to pay for tuition, or try their luck at applying for private loans that do not carry the benefits of student loans like interest relief during schooling and grace periods after graduation.

As of now, the only way to receive OSAP if you are from a high-income family is to be considered an independent student with an income below what the government deems as excessive or to declare a family breakdown. To be considered an independent student, one must meet several criteria. For example, both your parents must be deceased, you’ve worked full-time for at least 24 months in a row, or you’ve been out of high school for four or more years.

These provisions show the assumption of the provincial government that parents will support their children for four years of postsecondary education. This often false assumption also has no rational grounds; why the decision for a seemingly arbitrary four years? What occurs only after four years from high school that makes someone financially independent?

The alternative, to declare a family breakdown, is also insufficient. To declare a family breakdown renders you an independent student but you must show proof of estrangement from your parents “due to documented mental, physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse or drug or alcohol addiction in your family”. This provision is too narrowed and does not reflect the many other reasons that parents may be unwilling or unable to support their children’s postsecondary education expenses. Your parents could very well be supporting you, just not financially.

Rather than requiring students to jump through hoops to receive aid, there should be an honour system for students applying for OSAP. If students claim that they are financially independent from their parents, they should be believed at face-value. Perhaps the stipulation can be a restriction for these applicants to receive student loans only, so that grants can be reserved for students from lower-income families.  

There will undoubtedly be individuals that misuse such an honour system. But is the potential for misuse strong enough cause to warrant not supporting individuals who could legitimately benefit from such an option? That’s subject to debate.  

 

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By: Sabrina Lin

When it comes to university, money is constantly on everyone’s mind.Tuition fees represent a real financial burden for most students at post-secondary institutions like McMaster.

Although the Student Financial Aid & Scholarships office offers relief for this financial strain, recent statistics indicate that only a small percentage of the student population is taking advantage of these pertinent financial resources.

“In the 2015-2016 school year, more than 8,000 students applied for university in-course aid and scholarships using the online aid application,” said Leanne Ruiz, Assistant Registrar of the SFAS. For a school with 22,600 full-time undergraduate students, this represents just over 35 percent of the student population.

While 13,800 students did apply for the Ontario Student Assistance Program in the same year, the question that arises concerns the accessibility of McMaster-specific financial aid and scholarships to students on campus.

“I did look for financial aid and scholarships when I first came to Mac,” said Shaya Zhang, a second-year Life Sciences student. “Unfortunately, there was very little advertisement about it around the school, so it was a bit difficult to find.”

“I don’t believe they advertise enough. I only heard about financial aid through a post on the McMaster 2020 Facebook page, and individual posts easily get lost due to the volume of new posts every day,” said Kathryn Chen, a first-year student in the Health Sciences program.

“Although I saw a link for ‘Financial Aid’ on Mosaic, I don’t remember receiving any advertisements directly from the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. I feel they should advertise more in order to make this money more accessible for students who need and deserve it.”

In the SFAS office, Ruiz maintains that there are advertisements informing students of her office’s work.

“We recently did a whole campaign to educate students about the online aid application and openings for a variety of different awards,” she said. “We were down in the student centre right outside Starbucks on Oct. 17 and helped students complete their online aid profile on Mosaic.”

In addition, Ruiz says that the SFAS office sends out e-cards to students, puts notices on the Mosaic portal, uses the MBA bulletin for graduate students, and places advertisements on TV monitors around campus.

“I think it’s the students’ responsibility to look for this kind of stuff, but at the same time, it also should be a little bit more advertised,” said second-year Engineering student Kelly Ng. Like many others, she eventually found the financial resources she sought after searching online and applying through Mosaic.

“I think students need to make sure that they’re educated about their finances. Although they’re coming to school mainly for the academics, they need to try to be resourceful and learn to take care of their finances,” said Ruiz. “I encourage everyone to do the online aid application and do the OSAP. You may not be needing a loan, but you can waive the loan and only get grants.”

In the 2015/2016 school year, McMaster University provided students with a total of $2.4 million in in-course and graduand scholarships.

Huzaifa Saeed, VP (Education) of the McMaster Students Union, speaks at the University Club after McMaster president Patrick Deane and Ontario minister Glen Murray.

As many students have already experienced this year, OSAP is no longer primarily a paper process and there will be no more lineups to receive financial aid.

Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, stopped in Hamilton this morning to give a statement about the streamlining of OSAP.

OSAP Express is the new application process, and it affects more than 300,000 applicants and recipients in Ontario. Approximately 15,000 post-secondary students in Hamilton are expected to benefit.

The program requires students to sign a loan agreement once in their post-secondary career rather than each academic year. Its aim is to speed up confirmation of enrolment and direct deposit processes, and to eliminate lineups at the financial aid office.

“This came as a result of student associations advocating for change in the system, and we've delivered,” said Murray.

He said the new program would make receiving student aid easier while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for institutions that choose to implement it.

“Moving forward, there is going to be a qualitative way in which we spend,” said Murray.

Huzaifa Saeed, Vice President (Education) of the McMaster Students Union, said at the announcement that OSAP Express is a much-needed step toward a more accessible post secondary system.

“The cost of education is a big issue, but a large part of the issue has to do with reception [of financial assistance].”

Pointing to a 2009 federal survey on financial literacy, Saeed said many students are in the dark about financial options and have not taken full advantage of all available student assistance.

Murray’s announcement comes on the heels of the 30 per cent off tuition grant introduced last January by the provincial government.

The grant, promised by the Liberals in the 2011 provincial election, aims to make education more affordable by delivering assistance with less hassle.

The program offers refunds of $1,680 to students in college and university programs and $770 to students for those in college diploma and certificate programs.

"So often, students are eligible for something and they don't know. As a result they end up not accessing that resource," said Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.

"Streamlining the process will put it all together for students to get that information."

Since the tuition grant came out, 200,000 refunds have been received, which means approximately 100,000 refunds have yet to be claimed.

The grant is available to full-time students at a public college or university in Ontario whose parents have a gross income of $160,000 or less. Students must be residents of Ontario and must have graduated high school within four years before applying directly to a postsecondary program.

Dina Fanara

Assistant News Editor

 

The 35th  Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) General Assembly was held on campus last weekend, March 9-11. Hosted by the McMaster Students Union (MSU) and the McMaster Association of Part-Time Students (MAPS), the main topics of discussion included student health, student mobility, mature students and the beginning organizational steps for the next Assembly, to be held in the fall of this year.

On the subject of student health, the main concerns brought up at the assembly were “campus health services, mental health, accessibility services, first-year transition, international students, health promotion, racialized, aboriginal and LGBTQ students,” according to Alicia Ali, the MSU’s VP Education.

Some of the concerns brought up in relation to these issues include the “inadequate staff-to-student ratios at counseling centres, resulting in long wait times,” which often results to students not gaining access to services that they need at the time that they need them. Also, “disability,” as the government currently defines it, creates difficulties for students with mental illness to access the same resources that are available to students with physical disabilities, such as financial assistance or academic accommodations to meet their specific needs.

To solve these issues, it was suggested for the government to collaborate “with institutions, student organizations and other sector stakeholders [to] create a comprehensive strategy for enhanced health service provision on post-secondary campuses,” said Ali. A minimum standard for counseling should be enforced, and specific funds need to be allocated to maintaining this standard throughout the province. The definition of “disability,” as outlined by the government, also needs to be changed in order to more fully encompass mental health issues.

Another issue of importance is students’ ability to change post-secondary institutions once they have begun their studies. The greatest problem is the process of transferring credits, which is currently a difficult process. More transparency and predictability in this process is demanded, and “similar undergraduate courses at the first and second year level at Ontario’s universities should have enough equivalent content and learning outcomes to facilitate transfer,” said Ali.

Solutions proposed were the full recognition of credits successfully completed in first and second year courses at Ontario universities, and the use of government funds for universities to hire specific academic advisors who can “guide students throughout the transfer system, as well as facilitate orientation for incoming students,” noted Ali.

The final area of coverage at the general assembly was the issue of mature students, and the need to recognize the needs of those who may be entering university later in life, and their potential need for financial aid.

Ali noted that “the Ontario Tuition Grant excludes part-time learners that are mature, regardless of their financial need. Mature, part-time students are not eligible for most provincial financial assistance programs.”

Equality for financial aid between mature students and those coming to university directly out of high school, or shortly after, was one recommendation brought up at the assembly, as well as the further development of the Ontario Online Institute to provide mature students with more flexible learning opportunities. Suggestions were also made to allow part-time students to become eligible for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Ali noted that the three points of interest for the fall OUSA General Assembly will be “northern and rural students, students with disabilities and student financial aid.”

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