OSAP cuts force Waterloo region students to re-evaluate staying in school

Students in the Waterloo Region are re-thinking whether they can continue their post-secondary schooling after changes to OSAP have left many students with less money.

Students have taken to social media to call out the province for making changes to OSAP allowances

Kruchka received $11,000 in OSAP funding for two semesters this year. As a result, she decided to leave the University of Waterloo to study closer to home. Here she holds a screenshot of her new funding to attend Saint Mary's University, for which she estimated she will get just over $10,000. (Kirthana Sasitharan)

Students in the Waterloo region are re-thinking whether they can continue their post-secondary schooling after changes to OSAP have left many students with less money. 

In January, the province announced changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program including scrapping free tuition for low-income students.

For Waterloo student Ashley Kruchka, the cuts mean changing schools and moving provinces. 

Right now, students across the province are getting updates on what they can expect to receive in loans and grants next year.

Many students have lashed out at the province on social media, claiming they are receiving lower amounts of funding in OSAP grants and loans than they previously received.

Listen to Ashley Kruchka on The Morning Edition talking about how OSAP cuts will affect her education.

For Kruchka, a second year University of Waterloo student, the changes have required her to change her entire academic career. 

In the past, Kruchka was supported by the previous government's initiative of free tuition for students whose parents made less than $50,000. She used her $22,000 OSAP grant and loan to pay for her accommodation, books, food and medication, as she suffers from fibromyalgia. 

"I budgeted around a $1,000 a month to live off of," says Kruchka. 

This year, Kruchka was estimated to receive about $11,000 in funding to pay for her tuition and all other expenses — cutting in half what she got last year.

"My new estimate just covers tuition, books," says Kruchka. 

She says to stay at the University of Waterloo and continue her education would be impossible with the funding she is estimated to be given.

She said she can't get a loan from a bank to pay the extra costs because her parents don't make enough money to co-sign that loan. Her father currently is battling cancer.

So Kruchka decided to finish her education in Nova Scotia, at Saint Mary's University, so she could live at home with her family, who are located about 90 minutes from the university.

I picked Waterloo because it was my dream school," she says. "It takes away all the work that I did at the University of Waterloo.- Ashley Kruchka, student at the University of Waterloo


Student David Bentley says if cuts to OSAP continue, it would jeopardize his ability to stay in school. 

"Losing more money to OSAP is making it next to impossible to finish my program," says Bentley.

The single dad of three is a mature student at Conestoga College and received about $1,600 less this year compared to last. 

Bentley relied on a combination of OSAP and second career funding in the past for his tuition, living and food expenses for him and his children. 

He received less second-career funding this year and hoped OSAP funding would make up some of that difference. 

He's now started a a crowdfunding campaign to help him pay for school and expenses. 

While he did receive about $8000 more this year from OSAP, he says losing that bit of money will make a difference throughout the year because he's been reliant on his credit card up to this point to pay for his deficit. (David Bentley Go Fund Me)

Liberal plan 'unsustainable,' minister says 

The new Minster of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Ross Romano, admits that he was dependant on OSAP while in university.

Still, he says, the Liberal government's OSAP plan was "unsustainable."

"Despite the program costs ballooning to the point of fiscal unsustainability, enrolment numbers only increased by 1 per cent for universities and 2 per cent for colleges, meaning the changes did not achieve the objective of improved access to post-secondary education," he told CBC News in an emailed statement.

He says by 2018-2019, OSAP reached a cost of $2 billion, over a 50 per cent net increase in program costs. 

"The changes our government made to OSAP were necessary to ensure the program was both sustainable and available to the students of today and tomorrow," he said. 

'Less diversity of students'

Shawn Cruz, the vice president of university affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University Students' Union, says he's heard first hand from students that have had to make difficult decisions such as changing their availability for school or taking on more jobs. 

"This is obviously a concern because this takes time away from student academics, which is the primary and sole purpose of attending post secondary education," said Cruz.

Shawn Cruz, far left, says he was reliant on OSAP when he was a student in the past year and he recognizes that students across the province rely on OSAP to assist them. (Submitted by Shawn Cruz)

Matthew Gerrits, the vice president of education at the University of Waterloo's student union, says the province needs to understand the worth of every student that goes into university. He and said OSAP helps to bring in students who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity. 

"When we see less diversity of students who are able to access those undergraduate degrees, it means people don't have the undergraduate experience and they are going to have a harder time going out and solving the problems they are really passionate about," said Gerrits. 


Kirthana Sasitharan is a journalist with CBC Toronto. She has spent her time travelling Ontario, telling stories in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Hamilton. She previously worked as a business reporter in Vancouver and Ottawa. She is passionate about stories related to women's and labour issues, culture and identity. You can reach her on Twitter @KirthanaSasitha.