By John Bleasby – Special to SUNonline/Orillia
SUNonline/Orillia continues its examination concerning how post-secondary tuition cuts, recently imposed by the provincial government, could significantly affect students, institutions and our community.
The government recently mandated a 10% tuition cut for domestic students attending the province’s colleges and universities. This will reduce top line revenue by up to 55 per cent at Lakehead and Georgian. A drop in top line revenue threatens to throw both institutions’s finances into limbo, given the government has no plan to replace this reduction.
The impact could land at ground zero right here in Orillia at very personal levels. For example, cuts to expenses could cost Jacob Kearey-Moreland his new position as a teaching assistant to a Lakehead faculty professor. The income from this position enabled Orillia native Jacob to also enrol as a mature student to pursue a master’s degree in education. Jacob graduated with a B.A. from the University of Toronto several years ago. Despite holding down two part-time jobs and loan support from the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), he graduated with a debt of $25,000. Jacob is also a contributor to the local economy. He’s a co- founder of Orillia’s community garden, a small business owner operating Bass Lake Farms (specializing in pesticide free produce), and is a recognizable face at the Orillia Farmers’ Market. It’s a modest example illustrating how Orillia’s post-secondary education facilities and the local economy are intertwined to mutual benefit.
Careers Over Before Beginning?
The proposed combination of OSAP grants and loans changes and the potential curtailment of some student services will have a direct effect on students like 24-year-old Paula Charles. Paula’s situation differs from Jacob’s. She is one of a large cohort of undergraduate students attending post-secondary institutions across Ontario who are totally dependent on OSAP grants. Paula is truly frightened her career as a teacher could be thrown into jeopardy by the changes.
Paula specifically chose to move to Orillia from her home town of Whitby. The smaller campus was an attraction, plus Lakehead’s Concurrent Education program allowed her to pursue her education degree in a single-campus, four-year program. Paula works in the summer, earning about $10,000, income which has to cover rent, food and books — all the things not covered by grants. She also has car expenses because of the in-school placement portion of her education program. It’s tough making ends meet.
The number of students like Paula who receive full tuition grants is large. According to the CBC, approximately 56 percent of Georgian students have their tuition paid entirely by grants. That number is 33 per cent for Lakehead. At a superficial level, a 10 per cent cut in tuition may appear positive, however, it ignores financial challenges many students continue to face. Students like Paula will, in fact, have less access to non-repayable grants, and will be forced to take loans and have interest calculated immediately upon graduation instead of the previous decades-old 6-month grace period. This will result in higher debt that will linger after graduation. If she is unable to jump through more financial hurdles, Paula may not be able to complete her fourth year, earn her degree, and become a teacher. That’s not only a loss for Paula of course, but a loss to our education system going forward.
Support Services Cuts
At the very least, because of the announced cuts, both Georgian and Lakehead will be forced to review and likely reduce support services presently offered to students, including everything from YMCA membership to food banks, mental health, counselling services, daycare and more. Many of these programs are administered and supported by student union and activity fees, something Doug Ford has viciously attacked and deemed optional.
This presents a potentially serious problem for both students and the institutions. MaryLynn West-Moynes, Georgian College President and CEO, admitted as much in a media statement. “The announced changes giving students the ability to opt-out of certain ancillary fees may have an impact on the amount of services and quality provided to our students.”
Wellness programs available through Lakehead’s student union are critical elements of campus life for students like Paula Charles. Her fees for campus support programs were covered by her OSAP grants for the past three years. However, they won’t be covered when these fees become optional; something Premier Ford claims is a good thing. It is unlikely many students will be able to afford them, if the programs survive at all.
Planning To Adjust
Much is yet to be determined. Administrators and students need more information. “For the moment, Lakehead University is awaiting the details regarding the province’s recent announcement about tuition,” a University spokesperson told SUNonline/Orillia. “Only after those have been shared can we begin to understand how Lakehead’s campuses, and our University as a whole, may be affected.” This sentiment of caution was echoed by Georgian’s West-Moynes. “My first priority will be to support our students,” she continued. “Both incoming and current students will have many questions about how these changes will affect them in both the short and medium term.”
Student advocacy groups and their various supporters are vocal about the direct effect on students resulting from the changes to tuition loans, grants, and student fees. They feel changes will restrict, not expand, access to post-secondary education.
It could get worse – students like Jacob and Paula might be forced to drop out. It’s a fear expressed by Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. “This announcement will make life harder for students and their families,” she said in a statement. “It could result in an overall drop in student enrolment!” That would hit the institutions’ finances even more.
In nearby Peterborough, Fleming College is bracing for just that. In a recent Peterborough Examiner report, College President Maureen Adamson said she expects a 5 per cent drop in enrollment and an overall drop in tuition income of 12 per cent as a result of the announced cuts.
Ready, Fire, Aim
It is the real-life vulnerability of Jacob and Paula which brings focus to the personal, life altering implications resulting from the government’s proposals. However, Premier Ford’s insensitivity to income access issues and his attacks on the ancillary services provided to students attending Ontario’s universities and colleges is not entirely surprising.
One can imagine how Ford, a college dropout raised in a wealthy family, may not empathize with the predicament he has created. His policy is leaving students from low income families wondering if they can ever afford higher education, post-secondary institutions administrations trying to guide a rudderless ship, and caused concern in communities depending on higher education institutions for economic prosperity.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)
John Bleasby has been an freelance writer for over 40 years, with articles appearing in sports, news and special interest publications in Canada and Australia. For the past 4 years, John has been a Contributing Editor and feature writer with Canadian Contractor magazine, an Annex Business Media publication.