Living on ramen: OSAP prepares students for life of poverty

nickjeanNick Jean
Managing Editor 

For years we’ve been hearing about how difficult it is for recent university and college graduates. Student debts are sky high. Youth unemployment is running more than double the national average, which is itself trending at a depressing rate. Those who do manage to find work are more often than not working menial, dead-end jobs for a minimum wage that doesn’t even break the poverty line.

Yes, helping raise people out of poverty has been a subject of concern in Canadian society for decades, but somehow current post-secondary students haven’t been included in that group.

It’s almost like a rite of passage that we should live in a student slum, eat nothing but ramen noodles and boxed macaroni and cheese. I can almost hear the excuses now.

“It builds character.”

“You’ll learn to be self-sufficient.”

“We managed all right. Why can’t you?”

Why should we?

The overwhelming majority of post-secondary students are in their late teens and early twenties. These are years crucial to biological and mental development. Yet students are expected to live off cheap but nutrient-poor foods and study long hours, often at the cost of a social life.

Certainly, there are programs in place.

Here in Ontario we can count on the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). A hideously bureaucratic system that punishes every attempt a student makes in order to survive.

And they need to do something because those loans just aren’t cutting it.

The maximum amount a student with no dependents can receive is $360 per week.

A person making minimum wage, $11 an hour – a rate itself not even approaching the poverty line – working a full-time 40 hours a week will make $440 per week.

By choosing to go to school students are losing out on a potential $80 a week.

But wait! There’s more!

Ontario students have to pay the highest tuition rates in the country out of that meagre sum. In 2013-14, Stats Canada reported the average tuition paid by Ontario undergraduate students was over $7,000. Given a 35-week school year, that’s $200 a week already spent.

That poverty-inducing $360 has been more than cut in half. An Ontario Works recipient gets more than that and they never have to pay it back!

Sure, there is always the possibility of a part-time job. But with a packed school schedule students often have to forego studying to do so.

Raising the minimum wage may help to ease that balance but it won’t do anything for OSAP recipients. Make more than $100 a week and they’ll garnish your loan.

Need a car to get to school? Better hope it’s a clunker. Owning a car worth more than $5,000 will also reduce the amount OSAP will give you.

It is imperative that OSAP take a long, hard look at their policies. Enacting programs to help ease graduates’ burdensome loan repayments are all well and good. But how much are they helping those students who can’t afford to go to school in the first place because their loans can’t keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table, especially not after paying their tuition?

Freezing said tuition rates, or reducing them will help, too. But it’s not enough. The maximum weekly rate has to be raised to at least $500, the majority of which must be made a grant so as not to further increase the already soul-crushing student debts most graduates carry.

Doing so will ensure all future students have every opportunity they desire to further their education and position themselves for a good, well-paying career.