Free tuition?

Christy Farr

Senior reporter

Today’s headlines that read ‘free tuition’ have sparked the interest of many students across Ontario.

Yesterday’s Provincial budget outlined a new grant program for post-secondary students.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting it… I posted it on my Facebook right away when I saw it. I’m very excited,” said Ahmed Tahir, president of Humber Students’ Federation.

The tuition grant will be available to students that come from families that have a household income of less than $50,000. Other financial grant options are proposed for students from homes with incomes between $50,000 and $83,000.

“For somewhere like Humber, where the majority of students are from low income [or] middle income places in the community, it’s going to be fantastic,” Tahir said.

Students here at Humber are impacted positively in particular because tuition costs are generally lower than those at universities.

Chris Whitaker, president and CEO of Humber College, said the headline of free tuition looks good, but “when they talk about free tuition they talk about the average college program somewhere around 2700 dollars a year.”

Whitaker said it’s too early to tell if enrollment will increase with the new financial support, and said if people recognize the value of education they will find a way to pursue post-secondary education.

“The thing that has the biggest impact on enrolment is demographics and the size of the high school cohort coming out and the number of people in the workforce choosing to go back to college…I think those things have a bigger impact than measures to try and make the tuition more affordable,” he said.

By contrast, Rajean Hoilett, Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students of Ontario, says that debt is really the main deterrent for students considering college or university.

“We know that a lot of high school students don’t apply or go to university or college because they are debt averse,” he said.

Groups like the Canadian Federation of Students have been at the forefront of this fight for years by pushing for more grants instead of loans.

“We are incredibly excited students have been sounding the alarm on the crisis of affordability of access to education particularly for low income students for a really long time,” said Hoilett.

He said students have felt like they were alone in talking about needing more financial support from the province. And disappointed year after year when budgets didn’t reflect students’ issues.

Support for students to pursue post-secondary education will have positive impacts in the community said Tahir.

“In a few years from now when this cycle really becomes hole, [students] being able to graduate and start contributing to the economy buying goods maybe taking risks and starting businesses that’s fantastic to hear.

“Not having to worry about student debt to the degree that we are worried about it now, I think that is something that is on people’s minds from the moment when they take that loan and is something that is really on their mind when they are about to graduate and have to start paying that off,” said Tahir.

Humber College will have to analyze the implications of the new grants before the impact will become clear said Whitaker.

But he says Humber welcomes this announcement.

“Anything that is going to make college more affordable for students, whether directly or indirectly, is good news for our students so it’s good news for us,” he said.

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