If you’ve previously applied for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), you’ll want to take note of the changes the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has made to the program this year.
The changes, first proposed in the Ontario budget in April, seek to give students increased control over the amount of financial aid they wish to withdraw as they have the option of declining a full loan and only withdrawing grant support.
“Students will be able to decide exactly how much of the loan amount they wish to take out,” said May Nazar, spokesperson for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. “This is being phased in to ensure that the right systems are in place, so students have a seamless experience with these changes.”
In order to help students financially plan ahead, OSAP will no longer determine how much each student must contribute and will set a $3,000 student contribution.
“It’s definitely less complicated than before,” said UTSU president Ben Coleman. “However, it does make the system slightly more regressive — for one example, male students make more in their summer jobs on average and have greater savings, so by having a flat rate for everyone, it helps male students much more than non-males.”
The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) echoes the concern, suggesting that the fixed rate may be too high for some students. “OUSA is committed to working with the Ministry to ensure that robust appeal mechanisms exist for students facing this issue,” said Read Leask, OUSA Steering Committee member from Queen’s University.
Assets belonging to students are also being reassessed; students are no longer required to report the ownership of a vehicle and with the inclusion of a fixed contribution, the first $3,000 in a student’s assets will be exempted from OSAP’s aid assessment.
“This allows students to come up with their fixed contribution by drawing on their own assets, which could include money in bank accounts, tax-free savings accounts, bonds, stocks, term deposits, mutual funds and Guaranteed Investment Certificates,” said Nazar.
“This primarily helps students who are slightly better off, as those are the students more likely to have investments and assets,” said Coleman.
In addition, the loan limit has also increased to $155 per week for single students and $355 per week for students who are married or have dependent children.
“On August 1st of every year starting in 2016, the maximum weekly loan limit will be adjusted by the annual change in the Ontario Consumer Price Index as of July 31, rounded to the nearest multiple of $5. Indexing OSAP helps to make sure aid amounts keep up with growth in student costs,” said Nazar.
“Although the recent changes are a step in the right direction, OUSA would like to extend eligibility for the Ontario Tuition Grant and re-allocate funds used to issue education tax credits to be directed to grants.”
“The crazy thing is that Ontario spends more on tax credits than it gives out in loans, so it would be entirely possible to move to a financial aid system with no loans by spending the tax credit money on grants instead,” added Coleman.
“As Ontario already offers a generous aid program of grants, bursaries and scholarships, we aren’t considering a move to an all grants system at this time,” said Nazar.