I’ve long believed that post-secondary education should be free for bright, poor kids. And although there’s room for differences over what constitutes “poor” and “bright” (I’ve got a strict-ish definition of the former, less so the latter), it seems to me that this is a sentiment with which most people agree.
But here’s the thing: in actual fact, there are an awful lot of bright poor kids already going to university for free, and nobody seems to notice. The problem is that we just don’t package it in a way that people recognize it as being free.
Take Quebec. What’s that? Lowest fees in the country, but kids still have to pay? Pshaw. Over 100,000 university students there receive grants. The median grant is $4,500. Average tuition and fees is $2,000 or so. A quick look at statistics from Quebec Aide Financiere Aux Etudes suggests that at least 40,000 students are receiving more money from government than they are paying to go to school. Unless you’re deliberately trying to be obtuse about it, that makes 40,000 people getting a free university education.
Ah, you say. But what about mean old Ontario, where tuition and fees are now up around $7,000. Well, actually, there are a substantial number of students getting free education there, too. Thanks to the Ontario Tuition Grant, full-time dependent students from families making under $160,000 (yes, the limit’s an utter travesty – we’ll discuss it another time) get $1,730/year from the government. Those from families with income under $40,000, or so: they’re eligible for another $1,600 from the Canada Student Grant. Add in another $2,300 or so in education tax credits, and we’re up to $5,600. If the student is doing well at school – say, high 80s – that can qualify them for another $1,500 or so in entrance awards. That’s $7,100 in non-repayable government aid – more than what they are paying in tuition.
Or, another combination: Imagine the same student from a family earning roughly $60,000. Probably wouldn’t get the Canada Study Grant, but would get everything else, meaning they’d be receiving about $5,500. If they left home to go to school, the likelihood is that they’d get a loan in the $9,000-$10,000 range – of which anything over $7,140 would be forgiven (that is, turned into a grant). So, again, free tuition.
I could go on province-by-province (Saskatchewan and Manitoba do pretty well in this kind of accounting), but I’ll spare you. There are no numbers that would allow us to say for sure how many people are receiving this kind of money. For what it’s worth, my guess, based on my knowledge of student aid in Canada, is that the number is probably in the 100-150K range, but it’s hard to know for sure.
You’d think that this would be one of those things about which everyone – especially provincial governments – would be standing up and shouting to the rafters: it’s a heck of a good news story. And yet, absurdly, nearly no one even knows its even happening.
How did this state of affairs come about? More tomorrow.