Student unions, university, college still have 'lots of questions' about what tuition cuts mean

Not qualifying for tuition assistance may mean some people won't be able to go to school, says one college student.

$10M cut to university, college worried too

Mary-Ellen Bryant has two part-time jobs, but the money isn't enough to cover the costs without help from OSAP. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Although Ontario plans to cut post-secondary education tuition by 10 per cent, students aren't all optimistic about their future financial situations.

Along with the reduction, the government is also overhauling the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) and eliminating free tuition for students with a household income of less than $50,000.

Mary-Ellen Bryant, first-year student at St. Clair College, worries if she doesn't qualify for OSAP next year, she might have to take a break from college.

"I have two part-time jobs. And even with that, it's hard to cover everything," she said. Her family isn't contributing anything and the OSAP cheque that arrived a few days ago helped put things "back in the positive" for her.

Even though there is a planned 10 per cent tuition reduction, Bryant said that wouldn't help someone in her situation who relies heavily on OSAP.

Students describe how lowering the tuition could help them

2 years agoVideo
A day before Ontario announced changes to OSAP, some students were happy to see tuition will be lowered. 0:26

She may have to dip into her savings to pay for school next year, or ask her family for help — something she describes as being an awkward position to be in.

"Honestly I think a lot of people, including myself, would probably not go [to school] rather than asking for help from family."

More details needed

St. Clair College president Patti France says the college will lose at least $3 million from the tuition cutback alone. 

"It's the ancillary fees that we don't have an appreciation and an understanding for. We have a lot of projects based on those ancillary fees," said France. "Until we actually understand all of the detail and the framework, we won't have an appreciation of the total value."

Patti France on tuition reduction

2 years agoVideo
St. Clair College president Patti France comments on what the government tuition reduction means for the college. 0:34

And at the University of Windsor, the reduction will lead to a loss of $10 million for the school, according to interim president Douglas Kneale.

"We saw this coming," said interim president Douglas Kneale.

After the new provincial government was elected, Kneale said the school started to model different types of funding cuts to prepare for when they arrived.

The college was also expecting "a reduction in some way," said France.

"The devil's in the details, so until you actually know what that looks like ... if it supports access to education from a student perspective, we're thrilled about that."

What are 'necessary' student fees?

In the province's plan, there's also a push to allow students to pay only what is necessary in student fees. Kneale said the school is waiting to hear back from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities for the "technical details."

So far the ministry has only given a high-level look at which fees would be considered compulsory, which Kneale said includes "health and wellness, academic support, athletics and recreation."

"We need more clarification than that."

The University of Windsor provides a "fee estimate" calculator on its website. The above is for a first year, first semester full-time student in computer science.

Some of the fees students pay at the university include student alliance operating costs, operating and expansion costs for the student centre, a recreation fee (in addition to a sports and recreation capital fee), as well as society fees based on the program. 

One controversial fee included in tuition at U Windsor is the U-Pass, which the student alliance made mandatory unless you live outside of Transit Windsor's operating area.

A full time practical nursing student at St. Clair College pays these fees this semester. (Submitted)

At the college, fees are similarly structured. A nursing student in their Winter 2019 semester has a "Student Success Fee," as well as fees for graduation, transcripts and technology. Like the university, there are fees for recreation — split into a "Rec/Fit Centre Fee" and a "SAA Fee," as well as fees for student centre expansions and operating costs. 

Student unions worried

Jeremiah Bowers worries about funding cuts to student services with the government's plans to reduce tuition by 10 per cent. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

These changes to OSAP and student fee collection policies are just what Jeremiah Bowers feared.

He's the president of the University of Windsor Students' Alliance. When Ontario announced it was cutting tuition fees back by 10 per cent Wednesday, Bowers worried what it would mean for what the school will be able to offer.

"We're concerned that with a tuition cut, that's lost revenue for the university, and therefore that may mean cuts to services and programs which are essential to students," said Bowers.

At St. Clair College, student association president Holly Nicholson had the same thought. She's especially worried about what might be considered a mandatory fee.

Student Representative Council president Holly Nicholson says students would miss the services provided by the student association. (Angelica Haggert/CBC)

"We were shocked to hear the news," said Nicholson. "We're hopeful that it's going to be a good thing for our students, and it looks like a good thing on the surface."

As a student association, Nicholson said they provide "a lot of services" for students and that students would miss out on a lot of things if that fee wasn't mandatory.

"We provide food services on campus, we run a food bank for our students," listed Nicholson, adding that computer labs and study rooms at the college were also under the student association's responsibility. 

"On top of that, we act as a liaison between our college senior admin and the study body and we advocate on their behalf," said Nicholson. "If that fee isn't mandatory, you're missing out on a lot besides your concerts and pub nights."

Bowers agreed, saying they always welcomed more affordable tuition.

"Just not at the further expense of students."

With files from Sanjay Maru, Katerina Georgieva and Angelica Haggert